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.