Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Removing the Confederate Flag

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.
Matthew 10:21

The Civil War ended 150 years ago this April.

After 620,000 deaths, the war to end slavery was over. 

In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln was more theologian than politician. He suggested that the war had come to both North and South as divine judgment for the great offense of slavery. In the next to last paragraph, he delivered a confession of faith:

“If God wills, that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

And then the famous conclusion:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The Dead at Gettysburg
If you doubt that Abraham Lincoln was our greatest President and our greatest public theologian, go read the Second Inaugural. His address would be amazing for its grace and generosity of spirit even if you didn’t know that in the South, Lincoln was our most hated president. And in some parts of the country, he is still the most hated, although our first African American president may have him beaten in some areas.

Lincoln's solemn and sacred reflections are much more in keeping with the picture of the dead at Gettysburg than with with the romanticized picture above. And it is useful to remember that the second picture is real and the first is not. The Civil war was our deadliest and most brutal conflict. More Americans died in the Civil War than in any other war. It was not until the Vietnam War that the total combined deaths in all other wars was more than the number of deaths in the Civil War.

Sadly, the Civil War did not really end at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. And it did not end on June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth) when Union Troops began liberating the slaves in Texas. In many ways, it is not yet over. 

The decision by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to ask legislators to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the State Capitol is important because it is one more step in ending that war and moving the country healing our racial divisions. One hopes that a movement in South Carolina will lead other states to follow suit. 

For many years after the Civil War, the use of the flag was limited to cemeteries and historic memorials. But that changed over time. Popularity of the flag soared after Dixiecrats used it as the emblem of their support for Jim Crow laws and segregation. Strom Thurmond used the flag in 1948. George Wallace raised the flag over the Alabama legislature in 1962.

The flag is important today because it has become a symbol of racial hatred. As South Carolina Republican state legislator Douglas Brannon candidly observed, "It's not just a symbol of hate, it's actually a symbol of pride in one's hatred."

Removing the flag will not end racism in America. But it is important. It is a step. It matters because symbols matter.

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