Why All Christians Should Celebrate the Removal of the Confederate Flag

Lowering the 'Stars and Bars' is much more than political correctness.

Last week, the messengers of my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, voted to repudiate the confederate flag. In a widely seen address, former SBC President James Merritt, himself the descendant of confederate veterans, gave an impassioned speech that brought over 7,500 messengers to their feet in solidarity.

For some evangelicals, this kind of action seems like unnecessary virtue signaling, just a grandstanding attempt to align with popular sentiment. Others might see this as just another example of political correctness.

Racial Reconciliation Is More Than Political Correctness

Growing up in the white suburbs of Chicago in the 1970s and '80s, I was isolated from the pitched battles of the civil rights movements. What’s more, the curriculum in my Christian school barely covered the crushing injustices of the Jim Crow South, the systemic racism of U.S. housing policy and the work of Martin Luther King Jr.

So, sadly and sinfully, for much of my young life, I was ignorant and even indifferent to prejudice. My parents taught me the evils of racism, but we, as members of a white majority, were unaffected by racial tension.

In college I began to read more deeply about the history of the civil rights movement. Philip Yancey’s chapter on King in his book, Soul Survivor, opened my eyes to the tragic injustices endured by the black community, often at the hands of white evangelicals.

I began to read biographies of civil rights leaders and the Spirit of God moved in my heart to care about racial reconciliation. John Piper’s deeply personal book, Bloodlines, was a game-changer for me. Most recently, Isabella Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Sons has broken my heart afresh.

If we are to be kingdom people, we have to be concerned with racial reconciliation and grieved by systemic racism.

For some, for many, talking about race is uncomfortable. And so they ask, “Why can’t we just move on? Why can’t we accept the progress we’ve seen? Why can’t we just all get along?”

In some ways, I understand the impulse to not discuss race. It’s messy and, yes, uncomfortable. We don’t always do it well. But when I read Scripture, I see racial reconciliation as central to God’s plan for the nations.

Throughout the story of Israel, God was reminding his people of his plan to bring salvation, not simply to faithful Jews, but to the whole world. In the Great Commission, Jesus, with the full authority of Heaven, sends his disciples to all nations. In the story of Pentecost, Luke intentionally reminds his readers that someone was present from every nation. In the epistles, Paul makes the case that the gospel unites God’s people from every ethnicity. And in Revelation, we see gathered around God’s throne, peoples from every nation and tribe.

Racial reconciliation is not, then, simply a worthy virtue in a civilized society. Racial reconciliation is at the heart of God’s kingdom.

If we are to be kingdom people, we have to be concerned with racial reconciliation and grieved by systemic racism. Which leads me to think about the symbol that has, for many decades, been a flashpoint of racial tension: the confederate flag.

Removing the Confederate Flag Is More Than Virtue Signaling

Virtue-signaling and political correctness do exist and sometimes work to mute the prophetic voices of Christians in the public square.

But speaking against the symbolism of the confederate flag is something altogether different. The confederate flag has always been understood to be a symbol of white supremacy. For black Americans, this flag isn’t simply a nod to history, it is a symbol of oppression and fear. Jamar Tisby, president of Reformed African American Network, writes:

African Americans and other culturally and historically aware people of all races can experience discomfort or disgust at the sight of the flag. To them it represents a culture that affirmed and fought to the death for race-based chattel slavery. It brings to mind ancestors who lived and died in shackles and those who kept them in such a state. Yes, the Confederate flag represents more than slavery, but it does not represent less. Removing it from certain places fosters a sense of welcoming and unity for those most adversely affected by racism and slavery.

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Evangelical Christians know that symbols matter. The image of a cross is, to us, a sign of life and hope in a sacrificial savior. The image of a Nazi flag is a symbol of death, fascism and anti-Semitism. The image of an unborn child is a symbol of the fight for justice for children in the womb.

We shouldn’t be governed by political correctness, but if white Christians care about racial reconciliation, we should applaud the taking down of the confederate flag, a symbol that so dehumanizes our African American brothers and sisters in Christ.

If my minority brothers and sisters are hurt by the symbolism of the confederate flag, I hurt, too (Galatians 6:2). The church should be the one place in society where we hurt and mourn together and work to fight racial injustice. This kind of unity can be a vivid expression of gospel love to a watching world. As James Merritt says: “All the confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”

This is not political correctness. This is not virtue signaling. This is a visible sign of the Spirit’s work in the Church.

Top Comments

David James Haisell

83

David James Haisell replied to Patrick's comment

Agreed. No nation's flag belongs in a church. Under that roof, if nowhere else, our passports are for another country entirely.

Glen Alan Graham

1

Glen Alan Graham commented…

Mr. Darling: I could easily write a defense of why every Christian (at least in the southern USA) should fly the Confederate Battle Flag. Which, by the way, is NOT the "Stars and Bars". The Stars and Bars was the first national flag of the CSA, and featured a horizontal white bar between two red ones, with the upper left a field of blue with a circle of white stars. Learn your history and then comment on it!

The Battle Flag, in contrast, features a blue X-shaped cross (a saltire) with 12 or 13 white stars (depending on the army flying it) and bore the nickname "The Southern Cross". Also unlike the "Stars and Bars" (or first national) the Battle Flag never flew over a government building or a plantation house or anything else but grouped soldiers who were either in the heat of battle or marching to the next battle. The X-shaped cross echoes the one on the flag of Scotland (and is incorporated into the British Union Jack), symbolizing St. Andrew, patron of Scotland, who tradition says was crucified on an X-shaped cross for his faith in Christ. Therefore, the CBF, far from representing slavery or racism (except in the minds of racist whites who hijacked it and racist Blacks who don't know history), proclaims the Scots heritage of many Southerners and the witness even unto death of a Christian! Learn history before you comment on it!

I could easily also write an article about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, about how it began as a defense of slavery by Southerners against perceived threat from New England abolitionists. The Baptist Church was only one of the denominations that in the early 1800s split into northern and southern rival denominations over the issue of slavery. And the Baptists are the only breakaway church in the South that has never reunited with its northern denominational brethren! I honor the efforts of the SBC to become more diverse in the races and ethnicities of its membership. But the SBC needs to be honest about its origins and past history of pro-slavery, before calling for elimination of a flag just because some people consider it (wrongly) to be a symbol of slavery, racism or hatred. When you and the rest of the SBC learn the relevant history and acknowledge it, then you may comment on it!

And perhaps also comment on the flag that I cherish because it flew over some of my ancestors, none of whom owned a single slave and whose purpose in fighting was to defend their homes and families from a barbarous invading horde (please note that I also have at least one ancestor who fought for the Yankees, whom I also honor). Far from being a symbol of racism or hatred, the CBF is for me and thousands of others a symbol of our heritage as descendants of soldiers who fought on valiantly against great odds, soldiers who arguably composed the bravest and best army among the nations of history! And of our heritage as descendants of Scots and/or Scots-Irish!

10 Comments

Glen Alan Graham

1

Glen Alan Graham commented…

Mr. Darling: I could easily write a defense of why every Christian (at least in the southern USA) should fly the Confederate Battle Flag. Which, by the way, is NOT the "Stars and Bars". The Stars and Bars was the first national flag of the CSA, and featured a horizontal white bar between two red ones, with the upper left a field of blue with a circle of white stars. Learn your history and then comment on it!

The Battle Flag, in contrast, features a blue X-shaped cross (a saltire) with 12 or 13 white stars (depending on the army flying it) and bore the nickname "The Southern Cross". Also unlike the "Stars and Bars" (or first national) the Battle Flag never flew over a government building or a plantation house or anything else but grouped soldiers who were either in the heat of battle or marching to the next battle. The X-shaped cross echoes the one on the flag of Scotland (and is incorporated into the British Union Jack), symbolizing St. Andrew, patron of Scotland, who tradition says was crucified on an X-shaped cross for his faith in Christ. Therefore, the CBF, far from representing slavery or racism (except in the minds of racist whites who hijacked it and racist Blacks who don't know history), proclaims the Scots heritage of many Southerners and the witness even unto death of a Christian! Learn history before you comment on it!

I could easily also write an article about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, about how it began as a defense of slavery by Southerners against perceived threat from New England abolitionists. The Baptist Church was only one of the denominations that in the early 1800s split into northern and southern rival denominations over the issue of slavery. And the Baptists are the only breakaway church in the South that has never reunited with its northern denominational brethren! I honor the efforts of the SBC to become more diverse in the races and ethnicities of its membership. But the SBC needs to be honest about its origins and past history of pro-slavery, before calling for elimination of a flag just because some people consider it (wrongly) to be a symbol of slavery, racism or hatred. When you and the rest of the SBC learn the relevant history and acknowledge it, then you may comment on it!

And perhaps also comment on the flag that I cherish because it flew over some of my ancestors, none of whom owned a single slave and whose purpose in fighting was to defend their homes and families from a barbarous invading horde (please note that I also have at least one ancestor who fought for the Yankees, whom I also honor). Far from being a symbol of racism or hatred, the CBF is for me and thousands of others a symbol of our heritage as descendants of soldiers who fought on valiantly against great odds, soldiers who arguably composed the bravest and best army among the nations of history! And of our heritage as descendants of Scots and/or Scots-Irish!

Emily Walker

11

Emily Walker commented…

Hi there! I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to share a recent blog post my husband and I wrote about Christians and politics:

Few could have imagined the events that are currently unfolding in light of the Brexit “earthquake”. It is said that many have changed their opinion after seeing the political and economic consequences that this decision has triggered, which cannot be fully understood at this time.

Whole article:
https://faithandencouragement.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/christians-and-th...

Janie Fontenot

1

Janie Fontenot commented…

My family & me live in the deep south. We attend a large church that is biracial. Our small town will help people who are in need. There are several churches in our town.

Chris Germany

1

Chris Germany commented…

With respect, Mr. Darling, I completely disagree with the sentiments expressed in your article. I'm a Christian and attend a Southern Baptist Church, and many of us display the Confederate battle flag on our cars, homes, clothing, etc.

The flag itself has no relation to the peculiar institution of slavery as it was in the American South, any more than the Stars and Stripes which flew atop American slave ships crossing the Atlantic should be seen as a symbol of racism and oppression. No nation is perfect, and dumping any flag because of one practice or attitude with which you disagree makes no sense.

I have documented 20+ ancestors who fought for the South during that war, and I can say with absolute certainty that not a single one died so that a rich planter could buy more human beings. Whether any state or confederation entered a war with slavery as one of the stated issues behind the conflict, the individual men who marched under that battle flag were, on the whole, brave and honorable Christian men, and you should be ashamed of yourself for spitting on the memory of their sacrifice.

They tried their best to repel the northern invasion, and there's no dishonor in that. When your government exceeds the authority granted it by the people, then it's the duty of all brave men to rise and overthrow that government. But that's a completely different argument.

As your brother in Christ, I lovingly urge you and others reading this article to put your mainstream history lessons aside and dig deep into the memoirs of men who took arms in that war--I guarantee that your opinion concerning the flag will change.

K.c. Jones

1

K.c. Jones commented…

Mr. Darling,
With all due respect, the ignorance that you demonstrate in the content of your opinion piece is indicative of your northern, yankee education which is truly at the heart of the matter. Anyone who is willing to do a little independant research can tell you tbat southern soldiers did not fight to the death to preserve slavery any more than Lincoln plunged this ountry in to war to free them.
But that is immaterial. There must be understanding on all sides. Yes, the Battle Flag has been corruptedand perverted by some groups, but no more that the US flag or even The Cross. The problem that should concern all is the government's intervention in banning the Battle Flag for what is tje next step? Would uou write some vehemently and call your fellow Christians to rejoice when the government bans the Cross in order to appease and reconcile with muslims?
I think not.

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