Symbols and Signposts

By | June 24, 2015

Recently a friend forwarded a link to me and asked me to comment on it. I’ll post the link here, so you can read the context. I hope you’ll return here when you’re done.

Flag of the Heart (The Real Problem)

Now, please understand I have great respect and admiration for the general Anabaptist position. I’m in flux between Reformed and Anabaptist theology, and I find things I like and things I don’t like on both sides (if these are indeed sides).

But I do want to make it very, very clear that I completely disagree with this post, because it is doing something white people do quite easily – it is changing the subject from one thing of interest to black Americans to something white men want to talk about.

Yes, there are reasons to question our commitment to a political symbol when we are citizens of the kingdom. I’ll let you explore the complete theology of Anabaptists on your own and won’t argue it here.

And yes, it’s not the best issue for us to focus on. Poverty, war, crime, hate – these are far more real to people than a flag that simply flies overhead.

However – the real issues are that we white people are nearly entirely ignorant of our place in American culture, power, politics, society, business — you name it.

The Confederate Battle Flag (CBF) is a symbol, and a powerful one, and not the only thing or even the main thing.

And getting rid of it is a fairly easy thing to do, an act that would send an EXTREMELY powerful message to our brothers and sisters that we are listening to their voices and empathize with their pain.

The CBF is a flag of white Americans that says to black Americans “If we get our way, we’ll put you back in chains,” because that flag represents a nation that was founded on and had its identity in slavery first and foremost.

The Confederate States of America (CSA) would kept African Americans as perpetual, eternal slaves. That was the primary focus.

States rights for the CSA was the right for a state to not only implement slavery in defiance of natural law and civil rights, but also to pursue that slave into other states to return him to his state-defined captivity — that was the essence of the Fugitive Slave Act that South Carolina politicians pursued, demanded, and passed. The signer of the Constitution Charles Pinckney, later Governor of South Carolina, demanded a Fugitive Slave Clause in the Constitution in order to protect slavers’ rights to pursue slaves anywhere within the United States.

States’ rights for the CSA was the right for the state to avoid federal laws that were inconvenient to state interests, voiding any sense of civil rights or the federal guarantee of those rights.

That flag represents a nation that wanted to profit from the stolen labor of black chattel slaves.

So yeah, it’s not the only thing, or the most important thing — but taking it down acknowledges the actual factual history and meaning of that flag.

It is a stain upon this nation that we were founded with the noble words of “all men are created equal” and then we inserted clauses into the Constitution guaranteeing the rights of slave-owners to keep as slaves those of African descent — the Constitution forbade changes about slavery until 1808, for example. (And the CSA Constitution forbade any changes to its constitution about slavery. An eternal slave union it was.)

So we don’t have to pretend that slavery never happened, and we don’t have to pretend that we never fought a civil war over this actual thing, slavery, and that nearly a million Americans on both sides died, civilian and military, because several states wanted to keep humans as slaves.

Nothing honorable, and nothing to honor in any of that actual history. We actually had people who wanted to keep other humans as property – and we actually have people today to whom that is not reprehensible.

Taking down the flag is something we should have done in April of 1865. It is a monstrous shame that we cannot admit the South lost and the South was based on slavery, and it is a monstrous shame to see monuments, roads, buildings, and schools that honor that slave society.

Take it down. It offends not just African Americans – it offends any American who believes in America, land of the free.

2 thoughts on “Symbols and Signposts

  1. ddflowers

    Hey Stephen,
    Thanks for the pingback to my blog. I didn’t find anything that we disagree on in your post. You wrote that you “completely disagree” with my post, but didn’t give any good reasons for it other than you thought my point was to shift the focus as a white man to something I wanted to talk about? I assure you that’s not what I was doing.

    I stated my position clearly. I do believe the Confederate flag should come down for the sake of our dear black brothers and sisters, but that will not be enough. We should consider all of our allegiances and symbols, including the American flag (a living thing!) that poses an even greater problem for followers of Christ. I’m not suggesting that the US flag come down, but instead that it be removed from our churches.

    And my main point was that we must not think that taking down flags, which is simple enough, is the ultimate answer to our problem. The flag is merely symptomatic.

    The answer is repentance. If we’re taking Jesus and his gospel seriously, we will not think that protesting flags will solve our racist problem in America, or in the church. That isn’t to say that it shouldn’t be done. I said that it should be done.

    So, what some see as me (a white man) trying to sabotage or derail a conversation, others hear me, for the sake of our black neighbors and the whole church, saying if we want lasting transformation it isn’t in flag removal.

    David F.

    1. stephen matlock

      Thanks for the kindness of a read and a reply!

      Yeah, I think we should conversate about this and other things.

      My disagreement isn’t that we Christians should identify more with the Kingdom of Heaven and not a nation with flags, or that flags represent nations that are not perfect.

      My disagreement is that it appears to be a misapprehension of what is occurring in the community of our brothers and sisters who have been asking for this flag to come down since April 1865, and who are wounded by its display.

      That is the focus of the discussion right now, that this flag in particular is offensive to millions of Americans because it says to those Americans directly “You are warned that you are still considered property.”

      Can Christians have a discussion about whether flags in general are a necessary part of belief and honor? Sure.

      But in this case, right now, our Christian brothers and sisters are not arguing about whether a flag itself should be used to represent faithfulness. They are saying “Enough of this flag.”

      I’d want to support that as an immediate pain to resolve because it is offensive as-is. There’s nothing ambiguous or arguable about what the CBF represents — it’s on the face of it the flag of a slave-owning nation founded on the principle of eternal black chattel slavery. (And the CBF itself is of course the wrong flag anyway: there were three national flags of the CSA; the one being used to represent the CSA is the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and was never the flag of the CSA or any of its states.)

      I can’t make Christians all do the same things. I’m simply arguing that this is a critical issue for American Christians of all denominations to understand, that it is important as a continuous source of pain and grief to people actually targeted by it.

      This is a fascinating discussion for me, and I appreciate the insights provided by my brothers and sisters in Christ who have other opinions, so feel free to continue the conversation if you want.

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