Four Reactions to my Washington Post Editorial

Those of you who follow my blog on Facebook or Twitter are well aware by now that this week, I wrote a guest column for the Washington Post called, “Why, for Southern Christians, Taking Down the Flag Isn’t Enough.”  The reactions were, for the most part, positive.

I suspect that most of my friends and regular readers who didn’t agree with me probably just kept quiet about it. But there were others who chimed in on social media, and I wanted to follow-up on some of their feedback.  So I’m going to summarize their critiques or concerns, and then respond:

1. It’s a bit much to expect black and white people to merge their churches and, overnight, start doing Sunday services together.  I also think it’s unrealistic to expect that, especially in light of the fact that black and white Christians have developed such distinct, cultural approaches to Sunday morning.  That’s why, in my opinion piece, all of my suggestions for racial integration involved activities that might happen any day of the week – not just Sunday (specifically, I mentioned dinner, softball, birthday parties, and conversation).  Until integration penetrates the walls of our living rooms from Monday to Saturday, the walls that divide us on Sunday will remain firmly in place.

2. If we let the Confederate flag go, the next thing you know, people are going to be demanding that we take down the American flag.  After all, there are people who are offended by the atrocities committed by the United States.

I think that the difference is that the Confederate flag was added to southern state flags relatively recently as an intentional slap in the face of the civil rights movement (not to mention its ubiquitous use by hate groups like the KKK).

As a result, the flag took on a meaning that exceeded the original symbol of a battle flag for insurrectionist states (if that weren’t reason enough to take it down). Yes, the American flag may have flown over atrocities against Native Americans, for example; but it has not come to be a functional logo for bigotry against a racial minority. The argument to the contrary by white folks seems mostly cynical to me.

3. Everybody needs to chill out.  It’s just a piece of cloth.  As I said in a status update yesterday, if the Confederate flag were just a piece of cloth, people wouldn’t be nearly as upset or excited about the prospect of it coming down.  My friend Russ Latino comes at it from another angle in addressing Southern Christians who are in a panic over losing the flag: he says it is just a “piece of cloth . . . My allegiance is to the cross.  The cross binds me to my brothers and sisters in Christ.”

4. It’s divisive and unfair to single out Southern Christians over this issue.  I disagree; Christians are exactly the ones who should be singled out.  I mean, we’re the ones who claim the hope of Heaven, a place where “a great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, [will stand] before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).  As Matt Smethurst wrote recently, after quoting that verse, “Heaven is a racist’s hell.”  But do we want to see that kind of unity here “on earth, as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10), or are we apathetic about it?

Let’s Talk About Your Cousins

Consider this parable: Imagine that when your uncle was a toddler, he was abducted at a park, leaving your wealthy grandparents heartbroken for years.  Your father grew up with the privileges of the family and passed those onto you. Then, in your forties, you discover that your cousins are living just a few miles away.  You arrange to meet with them and learn that your uncle was brutally abused for years.  He escaped captivity as a teen and fought to survive, but he was badly traumatized and lived with his children in poverty until he died.

Would you really tell your cousins to get over it, to just forget about the underprivileged life they lived – you know, let’s just go our separate ways and forget about all that?  No, you would recognize the harm done to them, share the family fortune, and take herculean efforts to integrate your families, no matter how awkward or hard it might be.  But remember, we aren’t talking about cousins here—we’re talking about our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let’s Talk About Your Siblings

If you find yourself unable to have the same sympathy for African-American siblings in Christ as you do your imaginary cousins in that parable, ask yourself why.  Then ask God to shed light on it, and in doing so, pray this prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Listen folks, this topic is going to fade from the headlines as quickly as the Supreme Court’s hands down its same-sex marriage ruling, but this issue is not going away.  And as believers, we have a responsibility to begin to address it within our own, complicated hearts if we’re ever going to make a difference in the racially-divided world around us.

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  1. Graeme Phillips

    1) I would go further and say that this is often said by people wilfully disobedient of biblical teaching. James 2:1-13 explicitly condemns the petty partialities that we humans have. Granted, this refers to wealth rather than race, but it could justifiably be considered to cover race. Also, we should not have any urge to delay our obedience to Christ’s commands. Two passages making this clear are Luke 9:62 and Acts 24:25.

    2) Britain had a large amount of involvement in the US Civil War. Apart from the Trent Affair, Liverpool was an unofficial home of the overseas Confederate naval fleet and it was in Liverpool that the last US Civil War act took place (James I. Waddell surrendering the CSS Shenandoah at Liverpool City Hall). Even so, I’m guessing my authority to speak about the US Civil War is compromised by my nationality.

    Anyway, as I understand things, the US Civil War was about a plethora of issues besides slavery, including federalism, the Homestead Act, the political encirclement of the Democrat Party (which found it politically expedient to push for independence as a result) outside the South and so on. Furthermore, the question of slavery was not decided solely by national allegiances: – Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri were slave states that never seceded from the Union and West Virginia broke away and joined the Union in 1863. Also, the only two states with slavery still existing when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified (Kentucky and Delaware) were both north of the Mason-Dixie Line. It therefore is an oversimplification to associate the Confederacy with slavery.

    Also, I don’t see why any flag should be considered tainted because of how some people use it. In the UK, the BNP often waves around the union flag (they are a British political party after all), resulting in what I told you about a taxi driver being asked by a police officer to remove it from display. All societies do good and bad things as far as I am concerned. Whatever I think of the Confederacy’s policies on slavery, as a society, it seems to have been far more devout than the USA today or even the area enclosed by its old boundaries today. Your suggestion that people should stop flying the Northern Army of Virginia battle flag for this reason is about as odd as how Westboro Baptist Church does all these “God hates America/Sweden/etc” campaigns. Sweden is a very anti-God society (many of my Swedish relatives don’t want anything to do with me on account of my religion), but there are pockets of faith in the country and I would never expect a Swede to refrain from flying the national flag because I was offended by the said country’s general opposition to God.

    Another example is the Afrikaners: – many people disagree with their policies on race in the years 1948-1994, but on balance, they seem to have been historically a far more devout society than pretty much any other (they have historically been strong proponents of Calvinist doctrines). Irrespective of my views on apartheid, I would therefore not have a problem with people displaying Afrikaner symbols (e.g. the 1928-1994 flag).

    However, there are exceptions to this. I would view symbols of communism (the hammer and sickle for instance) as being a direct affront to God, since one of communism’s fundamental principles is opposition to all religion.

    3) Agreed: – our allegiance to Christ must always take precedence over all our earthly allegiances.

    4) Agree: – as believers, we must adhere to higher standards of conduct. If non-believers do good, we must do better (Matthew 5:46-47). I thought this statement was referring to Southern Christians, rather than the whole body of believers though.


    1. Your attempt to deny the centrality of slavery to the Civil War is the definition of historical revisionism. You’ve also shown for the last few days a troubling—and, for a Brit, inexplicable—tendency to want to defend the Confederacy. It’s not your nationality that undermines your authority on this subject, it’s your words.


      1. Graeme Phillips

        Because I don’t adopt the position considered the “correct” position?

        If you think the whole US Civil War was fought entirely over slavery, you don’t know your history. Your suggestion that the Union was a bunch of altruistic people motivated only by freeing slaves and the Confederacy the converse is not historically accurate.

        The war started in 1861, but Abraham Lincoln did not issue the Emancipation Proclamation until 1863. To say Abraham Lincoln made emancipation his prime goal above all else gives him credit he does not deserve: – the Emancipation Proclamation was an act of political expediency.

        It was only on June 19, 1862 that the US Congress prohibited slavery in US territories (the legislation did not apply to states). Up until then, the 1857 Supreme Court ruling (Dred Scott vs. Sanford) said that the federal government was not allowed to interfere with individual state laws on slavery.

        My argument is not that the Confederacy was good. Rather, it is that it had a mix of good and evil like any other nation state.

        However, it is useless using history to argue my case, as I am sure facts are a secondary consideration to you. Proverbs 26:4 applies here.


    2. I never said anything about the Union’s (or Lincoln’s) motivations, and no, I’m not going to debate the centrality of the slavery issue to the Civil War with you any more than I would debate the existence or breadth of the Holocaust with a Holocaust denier. It’s not a legitimate debate, no matter how hard you strain to argue otherwise.

      That’s the last I’ll say in this thread.


      1. Graeme Phillips

        The US Civil War is portrayed as a black and white issue of a righteous Union fighting an evil Confederacy, which it clearly is not: – I therefore don’t see why people should be scorned for expressing their fondness for the Deep South by flying the flag.


  2. John Allen

    Godwin’s law

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Graeme Phillips

      Agreed. If all else fails in a debate, just say that your opponent is worse than Hitler, as Godwin’s law dictates.


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