Part of me really doesn’t want to write this article. In fact, there’s a nagging voice inside my head saying, “Why add to the controversy? What difference will it make?” But I’m compelled to write for two reasons: first, many people have been asking my opinion on the debate of the battle flag of the confederacy and second, my heritage seems to be demanding a cathartic release of all the feelings I have concerning this debate. If you are reading this I simply ask that you read it all the way through and think before replying, commenting or sharing.
A Family Heritage
My family has deep roots in the South. My great-great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Richmond, fought as a member of Morgan’s Raiders, a Confederate company of troops that campaigned in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. They played a part in the Battle of Shiloh and penetrated farther north than any other army of the Confederacy. Growing up in Virginia, I became an avid student of history. There are literally dozens of battlefields, historical sites and museums within a couple hours drive in any direction. I studied the lives of Virginians like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Paul Jones, and of course, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. My bookshelves are filled with Civil War history books including a book of compiled letters of confederate soldiers in the field. What I read there is that while politicians may have had their reasons to wage war, the common CSA foot-soldier was simply defending his homeland from an invading army and that Lee and Jackson both opposed slavery and fought for the confederacy because they refused to fight against fellow Virginians.
So when I see the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia (aka, the “Southern Cross” or the “Rebel Flag”) I don’t see a symbol of hatred. I see a flag that my ancestors followed into battle. I see a symbol of Southern Independence. But I also see a reminder that history is written by winners and that losing is a bitter pill to swallow. Thus I never begrudge a person who chooses to display the battle flag, or the actual flag of the confederacy, the “Stars and Bars.” I support their right to do so, and understand the history and heritage they are trying to preserve. In fact, I share that history and heritage.
But I don’t display the flag in my home or on my property.
A Spiritual Heritage
As deep as my family’s roots are in the South, they are equally deep in Christianity. My father, paternal grandfather and paternal great-grandfather are all ordained ministers. My mother’s side of the family also has its share of preachers, elders, children’s ministers and missionaries in it. My commitment to the cross takes supremacy over my commitment to ANY flag.
Therefore, I must be careful not to put any stumbling block between a person and the cross of Jesus Christ. As personal as symbols of the confederacy are to me, I recognize that they are personal, but in a much more painful way, to others. Where I see family history and heritage, others see injustices performed by ignorant people waving that same flag. Yes, the argument can be made that the symbol is being misused and mistreated, but that does not remove the sting of hate and prejudice that the battle flag conveys to many people. If my displaying the flag inhibits my ministry and builds a wall between me and a person that I am called by Christ to witness to, then I will remove the flag. The only thing I allow myself to offend someone with is the scandalous gospel of grace.
What About the Future?
Yes, I am concerned that my family’s culture and heritage is being erased by the overzealous political correctness of the day. And I won’t lie, I get upset when I see people petitioning for statues of good Christian men like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to be removed from public view. I am unsettled by attempts to hide or whitewash our history. What angers me the most is the timing of this whole debate. It comes on the heels of a tragedy that we should be mourning. A hate-filled person murdered 9 people simply because they were black. Yet a community rallied, families offered forgiveness, and Christians of all colors united in prayer. It actually seemed like healing may occur. Leave it to the politicians and pundits to distract us from what is really important.
If we are to move forward in the future, we must prioritize the eternal. Salvation is more important than heritage. Yet we must also focus on the good. Instead of debating flags and statues, we should lift up these families and their church as shining examples of love in the face of hatred. Finally, we must get to know each other. Don’t allow the powers that be to divide us. Learn the history of your fellow man. See the world through his eyes. It may not change your mind, but it will help your understanding, and when we understand one another, we might not be so quick to tear down (or display) the relics of the past.