Symbols. We all use them. I have some trophies on my office shelves. They are symbols of when I was coaching football and riding horses in competition. There are pictures on the wall. They are symbols of events in my life or the lives of family members. The elephants symbolize my days in politics. The copper eagle bust that my son gave me as a gift symbolizes the American Republic and freedom. The African artifacts symbolize my love for my ministry partner William Agbeti, Ghana and Christian service to its people. We have antiques that have been handed down through our family for hundreds of years, symbolic of our heritage. I’ve always thought it important to understand our history.
I’ve witnessed the violence over the statues in the South, which are to those who erected them, symbolic of the lives and commitment of the men and women who fought in the American Civil War representing the Confederacy. If you have ever spoken to a family whose relative fought for the South in the Civil War, there is a deep sense of honor to family, patriotism and service to country. There is also a deep sense of standing up for state’s rights, for defending the family land. Little is ever mentioned about slavery. A lot is mentioned about the War of Northern Aggression. They see the tearing down of statues honoring Confederate soldiers as an attack on their families and their heritage.
To my friends of color, however, the Confederate battle flag, the statues commemorating the Confederate heroes of the Civil War, and the romanticism associated with the “glory” of the South has a far different heart-set. They are repulsed by the constant reminder, not of the historic past, but of the present. They see these as symbolic of the times, justification of being treated differently, of being disenfranchised, of an era of oppression that hits too close to home. They have legitimate concerns about the future of their children under what seems to be an increasingly hostile environment. If they are concerned about the safety of their children walking down the street, perceived or real, it is very real, irrespective of the cause, or, hear me now, the politics.
My friends of color are not part of Antifa or other subversive groups. They are hard working, loving, kind, God-fearing, Christian men and women. They are every bit American as I am. They would agree that some symbols, irrespective of their symbolic nature, should be preserved as a reminder not to repeat a certain aspect of history. They would also say that some symbols deeply wound their spirits. I hold that no man should own another. It is not Christian. Galatians 3:27-28 says, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Symbols have meaning. Some symbolize the history from which we should all learn. Others glorify institutions, or the struggle to keep such institutions, of oppression. And there are those who wish to tear down a nation and their symbol is tearing down a statue. The sin of slavery has and continues to haunt our nation. Violence is not the answer. Being manipulated by subversive organizations that want to overthrow the government is not the answer. Compassion, empathy, understanding, all are a starting place to healing. Let us be ever mindful of our heritage and inheritance in Christ as we deal with these sensitive issues. How we behave, what we say and how we treat others is a reflection of Christ.