There are several things which have become clear from reading my Facebook news feed over the past week. Now before I dive into those things let me make a couple of things perfectly clear. One I have a diverse group of friends on Facebook from around the world. Two, not all of them would agree on just about anything. Three, if we can’t be civil and disagree, let’s just agree that we probably shouldn’t be Facebook friends. Facebook and in some sense all social media sites are great places to engage in social discussions. That’s why they are called social media right? But these days posting your thoughts on social media can get you ostracized, castigated, and even fired. I get that we have to be willing to take the heat for what we say, but when did it become a reflection of my employer when I say something on my personal time? Well that’s a thought for a different blog.
So what have I learned from this week on Facebook?
1. You can find someone who seems intelligent to back your position on the history of the Confederate flag no matter what it is.
I have seen an article claiming that the history of the flag is steeped in racism and the desire to subjugate black people written by a white guy from LA via Harvard University. I have also seen an article claiming that the flag should be respected because black southerners fought to repel the northern invaders written by a black professor from a school in Virginia. There are articles postulating most everything about the flag, so pick your position and you can find something to back it up.
2. More people have cared about the Confederate Battle Flag this week than I have witnessed in my entire 54 years prior to this week.
I grew up in the south. Born in Alabama, reared as a southern man, never lived north of Kentucky, proud of my heritage, and yet I have never owned a confederate flag. Well unless you count the one on the General Lee car that I had once as a toy! I know that some have misused the flag over the years and the tragic, senseless, racist act of the shooter in Charleston made that crystal clear again this week. But the truth is I never saw that many people who cared about whether the flag was sold in Walmart or anywhere else until this week. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. There are plenty of things that are sold that are offensive to somebody. If it doesn’t sell, it won’t be there long!
3. People seem to be more easily offended these days.
That goes for people on both sides of this issue. I had relatives that fought in the civil war. They didn’t die thankfully but they fought. I am not offended if states do not want to fly the confederate flag over their state houses. I can understand why some would be upset if their relatives did die and someone removed the markers of their graves because it bore the flag. I can understand black Americans who lost loved ones to slavery or during the civil rights movement not wanting the flag to fly over their homes and capitals. If you say one thing you offend one group, if you say something else you offend the others. We can all find something that we are offended by if we look hard enough. I think some look harder than others to find them!
4. Not everyone who lives in the south is a racist, but all of us, regardless of where we live have been infected by racism.
To ignore our history is to be doomed to repeat it. I cannot help that I was born in the south during a time of social unrest and civil rights battles. I never put out a sign that said “Coloreds only” or “Whites Only”. I never went to a segregated school. But I had parents that lived through those eras and passed on some of those things to me. I have stereotypes of people imprinted in my mind and heart. To say I don’t is to lie. But the gospel of Jesus challenges me to leave those thoughts and to learn to see all men and women as brothers and sisters. It’s not always easy to break free from those thoughts that have been a part of our heritage no matter where we are from. Although I cannot know what others from the north or black men and women experienced growing up, I image that they too have stereotypes and prejudices that they have to battle.
5. Who we were doesn’t have to define who we can become.
The images of black and white men and women from Charleston coming together in the wake of the tragedy reminds me that we are not required to repeat history. We have the choice to help love overcome hate. There will always be those who want to remind us of our past failures. We didn’t always do the right thing in the south. But I don’t think any region of people or nation for that matter has a spotless history. We can continue to work hard to bridge the gap between the races so that dream of Dr. King can truly become a reality. A dream by the way that originated in the heart of God for His kingdom long before it was so well articulated by Reverend King. The dream of the Father is to see people from every tongue, every tribe, and every nation, living and worshiping as one people. And that dream will one day become a reality!
6. The gospel of Jesus Christ remains the only hope for effective change in people’s lives.
Taking down the flag of the confederate armies from the SC state buildings may be a symbolic step, but it won’t change the heart of a white supremacist or a member of the Black Panther party. It won’t help heal the hearts or lessen the grief of those who are attending the funerals of their loved ones killed while praying in church. It won’t really bridge the gap between whites and blacks in SC or anywhere else for that matter. The only way to change is to change from the inside. I know that the gospel message of love has changed me. It has changed the way I look at people who are different from me. We are all sinners in need of a savior. We all have the opportunity to have our sins forgiven because of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. We all have the right to become sons and daughters of the King because the Father resurrected the Son on the third day. We have the opportunity to live together because Jesus tore down the wall separating us so that there are now no divisions based on race or gender or nationality. We haven’t arrived yet, but with the grace of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit we have the call to press on. We gather not around the confederate flag or the American flag, but around the cross of Jesus Christ as our symbol of hope and unity. I hope you will join us there!