Statues, Confederate Flags, and Opportunities
The State of Tennessee recently punished the city of Memphis for removing statues of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederate President Jefferson Davis from public parks. Tennessee legislators voted to remove $250,000 of state funding from Memphis’ bicentennial celebration. Memphis executed the removal legally and broke no laws, ordinances, or codes. The statue was removed Wednesday, December 20, 2017. Ten days after the removal at the 2017 Autozone Liberty Bowl game Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was booed by Memphis fans for his role in the removal when he came on the big screen to promote the city. Opponents of the removal chided Memphis’ abolition of history while proponents cheered the removal of what the statue represents.
Additionally, the confederate flag has been a controversial topic in recent years. The State of Mississippi has been chastised by many of its citizens for considering the removal of the confederate flag portion of its state flag. Many people today fly the confederate flag under the guise of history. The confederate flag is also a prominent symbol of hate groups and is flown proudly and prominently at Ku Klux Klan marches. In 2001 the State of Georgia removed the confederate flag portion of its state flag and replaced it with another design. I was a junior football player at Harding University when this happened. A classmate of mine, who I didn’t know, hung the original Georgia flag out of a dorm window with a sign that read: “Things should have been left the way they were”. He had no clue what he’d done! Within the hour of hanging his flag, about 20 of the biggest, blackest, and strongest football players in Arkansas (and two of the smallest, I was one of them) were in his dorm room and “confiscated” his Georgia flag. He had no idea why we were in his room and even called the dean’s office on us.
Have we grown so unempathetic that we don't even consider the fact that there is an entire race of human beings right next to us whose history of these statues and flags represents hate, oppression, injustice, death, lynching, and years of undue credit? For some, while they are history, these emblems represent a very vile and distasteful past that impacts present day attitudes of hatred toward me. My history of this statue or the flag may not be your history. Slavery and segregation has left such a vast chasm between two races that, either it has blinded us from even the possibility of another person’s history or racism at its finest is alive and well and many people, even Christians, just don't care how the impact of our history affects us today. What if your loved one died from cancer or Alzheimer’s and I put a statue of cancer or Alzheimer’s in your front yard? After all, we need to know the history. When we cure it, we’ll need to know where we’ve come from. Every day you can walk out your door and be reminded of the pain and suffering your loved one endured at the hands of an awful disease. One of my grandmothers died of cancer and the other died from Alzheimer’s. I hate those diseases and I wish they’d be abolished. I want to remember the cap gun my grandmother bought me or the box of toys I got for Christmas. I don’t want to remember the pain they endured from disease.
Empathy is born of love. God is love. How do Christians show that they love God? It can’t be through hate or emblems of hate because The Bible tells us “But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?” (I John 4:20, CEV). See, our love for GOD is manifested in how we treat each other. It’s not manifested in human history. If we don’t love each other enough to be empathetic to the vilest past we fail to show GOD, who IS love, to the world.
Now, here’s the good thing about these emblems of hate. Hate gives Christians an amazing opportunity to show the world who we are and the God of heaven. Hate allows us to publicly take the action of standing firm in our faith (I Corinthians 16:13) and show the world that there is a group of people from all nations and races who love. People who rise above history. People who don’t return hate with hate. People who love when they’re hated and people who are empathetic. Christianity calls us to be people who make a difference. God gave us the opportunity of slavery to share with the world who He is. We missed it. He gave it to us again in segregation and Jim Crow era. We missed it again. He’s giving it to us now! Let’s not miss this one.