South Carolina was a vacation destination of our family in the late 60’s. Warm April breezes on the Boardwalk, pecan pie, grits and Confederate flags frame my memories of southern hospitality.
Like a lot of boys, I began a childhood affection for all things Blue and Grey. My entire collection of non-religious books is about the Civil War. “God’s and Generals” is one of the few films I’ve watched more than twice.
I built dioramic layouts on our ping pong table depicting the Battle of Gettysburg, using 100’s of 1/72 scale, personally hand-painted soldiers.
A lot has changed in the last two weeks.
Nine people were murdered because they were black and sitting in a Charleston, S.C. church with a history of fighting white supremacy. What resulted was a continent-wide reaction to the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments and parks or roadways or anything named after Confederate generals.
Wal-Mart, Apple, eBay, Amazon and just about every business, organization and government related official were falling over each other to see who could be first to dump all things Dixie. Even the Dukes of Hazzard weren’t safe.
A Call to Caution
There is good sense in Robert Tracinski’s call to caution, “Remember that this story began with the people of Charleston and of South Carolina uniting together in support of the victims of a shooting. The flag controversy is an attempt to disrupt that sense of common humanity and pit us against one another. That is the motive we should reject.”
Mollie Hemmingway has her finger on the pulse of a cultural tsunami, “This generation seems to excel at inventing controversies, weighing in on those invented controversies, and then patting itself on the back for being so courageous and open-minded.”
“The far more frightening reality that such invented controversies avoid is that mankind is full of sin, and that some of us show that sinfulness in racism and murder.”
Symbols are tremendously important. Whatever South Carolina and the rest of America chooses to do with all things Confederate, it shouldn’t be out of guilt, shame or resentment.
However, the outcome could signal the destiny of other symbols that might become unwelcome in our culture.
The cross embodies some of the most offensive things possible you could say about someone in relation to God and eternity – in Hemingway’s words “mankind is full of sin” – that’s offensive.
Galatians 5:11 refers to the “offense of the cross.” Because of its horrific nature the cross is offensive but the Christian cross goes beyond cruelty.
The cross announces how deep sin goes, how profound our rebellion is, how untenable is our standing before God.
The cross declares how dire is our condition apart from Jesus.
The cross also points to love – the love of God for each of us – and the sacrificial death of Jesus.
The Offense of the Cross
For Jews and Muslims, the cross is a reminder of the animosity of Christians.
Mary C. Boys, highly regarded by Jews and Christians as an academic, begins a recent essay with, “The scandal of the cross consists in this: Christians in their history have made it a sign of conquering hate rather than sacrificial love. It is now time to ask whether the cross itself can be redeemed.”
Dr Giles Fraser, a former canon chancellor of St Paul’s, London, assesses the offense of the cross by noting, “For the Jews, the cross is a symbol of oppression…Christianity bears primary responsibility for historic anti-semitism.”
Could the cross go the way of the flag?
Lifeway’s President, Ed Stetzer wisely suggests, “Regardless of how cultural issues like this are decided, and no matter what sort of authority Christian values have in culture, we must always be about Jesus’ mission.
The good news that God sent his Son to live a perfect life, die the death we deserved to die, and rise again to glory is of first importance and is true regardless of courts, laws, or culture.
As believers…we must pray for our communities, love our neighbors and share the hope that is within us.”
APPLICATION: Culture and the cross are reasons to be concerned for our country and continent. Please leave a comment below. Thank you.
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Pastor Bob. I agree that symbols matter a lot. I wonder though if equating the cross with the confederate flag is a dangerous analogy.
The cross primarily stands for sacrificial love, as one of the writers you quoted have said, no matter how many hateful actions have been associated with it since.
The confederate flag primarily stands for an army that fought in favour of keeping black people as slaves, no matter how many other positive connotations of BBQ and hospitality have been associated with it since.
People are calling for the removal of the flag today because 9 people were killed in its name, in a long line of hateful, violent atrocities. Even though the cross is a much nobler symbol to start with, if 9 people were killed in the name of the cross today, I would hope that Christians would rise up and say “that’s not my cross” in the same way caring people in the south are saying “that’s not my flag.”
Finally, I find it hard to swallow the idea that this is an invented controversy, especially as the parent of black children who are in my family almost exclusively because of inequalities arising out of years of structural racism in South Africa. Every time I have to make a decision about how to raise my boys that is related to the colour of their skin, I feel the controversy so acutely. This isn’t about being open-minded, this is about helping my soon-to-be grown black men navigate a society that fears them.
Kate, I always appreciate your comments because I know you’re reading, and we get to connect and when that happens I usually come out the better for it.
You and Tex are great parents, Kate. Your kids are fortunate and vice versa. I can’t imagine the context in which you are raising them. The good thing is they will grow up to know they are loved unconditionally by you and God because of whose they are. May the future you and I get to create make it easier for everyone to be color blind.
I connected the flag and the cross only in that they were both symbols. No comparison between their meaning, but their outcomes may share a similar fate. What if the cross was no longer esteemed or even allowed in public? I guess, nothing much, but it would be the process that got us to that moment that would matter. Christians had to use secret symbols in the 1st century to send a message to each other. The cross was not on display for them. So we may go full circle back to the 1st century, which wouldn’t be the end of the world.
I see the outcome being only less liberty/freedom.
As for the “invented controversy” in the big picture it was referring to Apple, Wal-Mart, Amazon, etc and the knee jerk reaction to now pull all products, roads, statues, park names, etc. related to Confederate history. Its ironic that the 3 aforementioned companies all continue to market merchandise related to Nazis and Communism. Maybe its because the Civil War era is of personal interest that I feel we are at risk of losing something important. The Civil War was the darkest time in America’s history, never to be forgotten, never to be repeated.
Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were men of admirable character and faith in their time. They were devout Christians. They were good men on the wrong side of a bad cause. I see how some parts of mainstream media choose to dehumanize and demonize anything they don’t like.
When people stood behind the cross as a symbol of their hatred (KKK) I have been among those who said, “that’s not my cross” but at the same time I would not call for its rejection as a symbol.
Amen PB! It is most important to acknowledge our historical errors and NOT pretend they did not occur. The cross stands for sacrificial love for those of us who have accepted Christ’s sacrifice but it represents oppression to those who have experienced pain at the hands of Christians and judgement for those who see the Gospel as foolishness.
Your analogy and God’s message are not lost on me.