Is taking down the Confederate battle flag a mere gesture?

I have been watching the flag controversy from a distance, choosing not to weigh-in until now. Well, I guess that’s not quite right. Early on, I did tweet my opinion on the matter but offered little more. So for those who missed it, I agree that the flag should come down.

It has been interesting to see the conversation unfold among evangelical and conservative writers. Russell Moore, Albert Mohler, Rod Dreher, Ross Douthat, and countless others have called for its removal. Even Doug Wilson has declined to defend the flag as a symbol of southern resistance against federal encroachment, saying “Just take it down, man!” Among conservatives, it seems those wishing to keep the flag up are growing few and far between.

I won’t rehash the arguments made so ably by the others I mentioned above. I’ll simply add my cosign to Moore, Mohler, et al. Having said that, I would make one brief response to conservatives who argue that taking the flag down is an empty gesture and doesn’t do anything to actually solve the problem of racism. I think that critique actually misses the point—at least from a Christian perspective. Here’s why.

When George H. W. Bush shaved his head a couple years ago in solidarity with that two-year old cancer victim, no one was under the illusion that shaving one’s head has anything to do with solving the problem of cancer. Everyone understood it as a beautiful expression of concern—an acknowledgement of and identification with a precious child who was suffering. It may have been a “gesture,” but it was a gesture of love that meant something—not only to that child and his family but also to the whole country. And it misses the point to complain that shaving his head did nothing to heal the child.

Likewise, taking the flag down really won’t do anything to erase our nation’s original sin. Nor is it likely to bring about the end of racism in our time. At the very least, however, it is a way for Christians to acknowledge festering racial wounds and the slighted consciences of black Americans. Even if you believe that the flag represents “heritage not hate,” taking the flag down is a way for you to say to black brothers and sisters in Christ, “Your suffering is weightier to me than my right to wave this flag, with all its checkered history.” In short, it’s a gesture of love and reconciliation. And that means something—especially in the aftermath of Charleston. It is our “head-shaving” moment, if you will. Or we might even say that it is our 1 Corinthians 8:13 moment: If a confederate battle flag causes my brother to stumble, I will never fly that flag again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.

That’s not a mere gesture. It’s the first fruit of the Spirit and the defining mark of Christ’s people (John 13:35; Galatians 5:22). So let love go up, and let the flag come down. It’s time. Past time.

34 Responses to Is taking down the Confederate battle flag a mere gesture?

  1. Andrew Alladin June 24, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    It’s the sudden, overwhelming, blink-of-an-eye, mad rush by the mob that puzzles me. We last saw this frenzy during the Memories Pizza episode a while back. As Brendan O’Neill of Spiked puts it on gay marriage: “It is scary how quickly gay marriage became dogma.” CNN got Amazon, EBAY, Walmart, etc to drop Confederate flag merchandise just as easily as the Indiana reporter forced Memories Pizza to shut down (briefly) over a hypothetical question. Brendan Eich will NEVER be hired by any major technology company because the mob got his scalp over a measly $1000 donation to Prop 8.

    Christians should be cautious about lending credibility to mob justice. The mob will eventually come for churches, seminaries, and Bible colleges that do not believe in gay marriage. And then who will remember Mohler and Moore’s efforts at racial reconciliation?

    • Mike Lynch June 25, 2015 at 7:26 am #

      If the Americans suddenly woke up to the atrocity of abortion, I’d be okay with mob justice if it meant ending the massacre.

    • Chris Ryan June 25, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

      You don’t want to take it down because a bunch of people want you to take it down? That’s passive aggressive reasoning, no? And who is this mob? I haven’t seen pitchforks. I haven’t seen riots. Where are the Molotov cocktails? I’ve seen nothing but peaceful demonstrations. What makes them a mob? Are Tea Partiers and other conservative activists who bring guns to rallies also mobs?

    • Tim Batchelor June 25, 2015 at 4:39 pm #

      While watching the mob unfurl its fury I remain keenly aware that there is a mob who have put a target on the Bible and on the backs of Bible believers. We have already seen them squeeze faithful believers from the marketplace. They have already labeled us haters and have marked our book a book of hate. How long before the retailers are pressured not to sell the “hate book.” How long before they call for the stripping of its words from government edifices? Where will the evangelicals who have happily joined the mob be when that happens? I prefer not to encourage or join the mob when it may serve my purposes because I know that the mob will quickly turn on me.

  2. Christiane Smith June 24, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    ” a way for you to say to black brothers and sisters in Christ,
    “Your suffering is weightier to me than my right to wave this flag, with all its checkered history.”

    Amen.
    And I say this with a whole heart, knowing that my great uncle, Wm. James Ausbon, was one of the six heroes of the Siege of Petersburg. He received a silver medal from General Beauregard for gallantry, having endangered himself to save many of his brothers in arms.
    For the love of Christ, take down the ‘stars and bars’ and place this flag where it honorably belongs: in a museum. . . . along with the medals of our heroes, and along with the cannon ball that was found lodged into the chimney of my maternal grandmother’s family’s home in Plymouth NC.
    Let us remember our past with a Christ-like dignity that refuses to be insensitive to a brother or a sister whose ancestors bore the sadness of slavery in those long ago days. In this way, with them, we can actively celebrate that ‘a time to heal’ has spiritually begun.

  3. James Stanton June 24, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

    I’m sorry to say it but I think it’s a mere gesture and low-hanging fruit for politicians who want to avoid terrible optics. Flying that in defiance and intentional ignorance of what it represents to many, and not out of sincere desire to memorialize or celebrate heritage, is something that requires repentance and enlightenment.

    The real importance should be given, as you’ve said, to racial reconciliation. The flag has become a distraction.

    • James Stanton June 25, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

      I’ve had some time to rethink about whether its a mere gesture. I read about a man who in the last few days got a tattoo of the rebel flag removed from his body. He had noticed the pained reaction of an African-American woman who saw his tattoo at the gym. That does mean something.

  4. Brian Holland June 25, 2015 at 2:49 am #

    As a white man married to a black woman (and more importantly as an American and as Christian) I fully support the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol buildings, and state flags. But I also think it’s ridiculous to blame the actions of Dylann Roof on the Confederate battle flag, just as it is ridiculous to blame the gun itself or the lack of gun control. It’s certainly absurd to blame Fox News, which is pure slander, and completely unsubstantiated. I think you raise a legitimate point Denny about the offensive nature of the flag for blacks, and really all people of conscience. As Glenn Beck pointed out, “why would you fly another country’s flag?” He also pointed out that it couldn’t be about states’ rights, because any state that opposed slavery couldn’t be a part of the Confederacy.

    On to the larger point though, I desperately want to reconciliation between whites and blacks in America, but I remain extremely pessimistic. With my wife and I, I can assure you it’s a non-issue. We are both conservative Christians/Christian conservatives who try to put the Word of God first in our lives. We have been concerned for years that a full-blown race war is coming, and pray and work against that. Thank God for the example and the witness of the black Christians in Charleston, SC. However I think all Christians need to unite against the “Black Lives Matter” crowd who seeks continued division and revenge. The went nuts on Twitter yesterday because Hillary Clinton (who I’m no fan of) had the audacity to say that “all lives matter.” That gives you and idea of where they are coming from. They also burned an American flag in Charleston on Saturday before hoisting the black national flag, and then we’ve seen the rash of acts of vandalism on Confederate war memorials for people who are long since forgotten. I had no idea who Jefferson Davis was until yesterday! Now Malik Zulu Shabazz is calling for the “slave masters and their families to be murdered” just feet from where Dylann Roof killed those people. Farrakahn spoke at a black “Christian” church in DC, and said the American flag needs to be brought down! And he received thunderous applause there! Sadly this has become very mainstream in black America, and that’s why I am not optimistic about reconciliation in the near future, but obviously we should all work and pray diligently for it.

    Maranatha!

    • James Stanton June 25, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

      Racial reconciliation will be impossible if we allow ourselves to be affected by the corrosive voices at the fringes. Stop paying attention to those who would exploit this issue, no matter their skin color or political affiliation, for their own purposes.

      • Brian Holland June 25, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

        Who’s talking about the fringes? Since blacks have been so affected by leftism, hatred towards white people, and Christianity (which is perceived as white) is mainstream. It saddens me to say, but it’s true. My wife will tell you the same thing.

        • James Stanton June 25, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

          I see you persist in your generalizations even though recent events have put to shame your certainties about what black people believe. All of the figures you listed are fringe extremists who do not represent the majority of the people you generalize about. You refer to singular acts and events to advance a divisive counter-narrative. I don’t know what your motives are but do I think you hide behind your wife to write some of these things and its unnecessary.

          • Brian Holland June 25, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

            Ridiculous. The people of SC are incredible examples of Christ-like forgiveness may we all follow their example. I was not talking about them. I want true racial reconciliation, but it’s not going to happen unless we are able to talk honestly and openly about these issues.

    • Chris Ryan June 25, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

      I did know who Jefferson Davis was but I’ve never heard of this Shabazz person, Brian. My take on the #BlackLivesMatter campaign is that the killing of black people by cops and vigilantes has been over looked. When Hillary Clinton said All Lives Matter–and all lives do matter–she erred in not noting how many black people have been unjustly killed in this country just in recent years. Just to cite a few: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garland, Freddy Gray, Oscar Grant, Walter Scott, John Crawford, These people should be going to school, starting families, or raising families. Instead they’re decorating a cemetery. For this country to make racial progress its important to highlight areas where we still fall short of our Founding Principlethat all men are created equal. #BlackLivesMatter highlights one area where America must do better.

      • Brian Holland June 25, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

        Chris, you are a Christian, and you have a problem with the statement “All Lives Matter”? Seriously? The “Black Lives Matter” protestors are obsessed with race. Someone who is obsessed with race is well… a racist. They are also Marxist. This is OWS part 2. They are also hypocrites in that they say not a word about the 7,000 plus blacks a year who are murdered by other blacks, and take no responsibility for the dramatic surge in crime across the country. 90+% of interracial violent crimes are black on white. They have nothing to say about that. And they certainly don’t have anything to say about the black babies who are slaughtered at a rate of three times their percentage of the population! So yes, it’s impossible to take them seriously. Lumping Oscar Grant, and Eric Garner (not Garland) in the same category as Trayvon Martin is ridiculous. You have to look at these on a case by case basis. And why is there a disproportionate amount of interactions with law enforcement and young black males in the first place? Can you please answer that?

        • Chris Rya June 27, 2015 at 7:34 pm #

          I had trouble posting my reply. Hopefully this one works.

          As I stressed, All Lives do matter. Based on history black people have a well justified fear that their deaths are ignored by the media. Zimmerman, a man with well documented anger management issues, shot a boy against whom there’s 0 evidence to indicate that he was anything other than innocent. Black people want to keep the spotlight on Trayvon Martin along with the others.

          As far as blacks and cops are concerned, black people simply fear that they won’t get a fair shake from cops. Speaking as the son of a cop, who counts a number of cops as friends, their fears are well justified. Not all cops are racist or abusive, but blacks face substantial racism and abuse from cops. In Alabama last week the Anniston Police Dept fired 2 cops who belonged to a white supremacist organization. But they waited months to do so. When it was first brought to their attention by the Southern Poverty Law Center their response was to say that the cops had a Constitutional right to belong to such organizations. That’s an anecdote. If you’re the kind of guy that prefers stats, consider that blacks smoke marijuana at about the same rate as whites but face an arrest rate 4 times higher.

          • Brian Holland June 28, 2015 at 9:53 am #

            Chris, your statistic about marijuana arrests only shows the fallacy of so called “disparate impact” theory, since it doesn’t take into account the much higher violent crime rate in black neighborhoods. In other words those neighborhoods have heavy police presences due to higher crime rates, and thus have higher rates of arrest for marijuana. That’s not to say that criminal justice reform is not a priority. There are common sense reforms that are needed. And obviously any cops that are secretly KKK members need to purged from the force.

            Re: Trayvon Martin, that’s a total rewriting of what actually happened. He feared for his life, was attacked, and was screaming for help before he drew his weapon. It was tragic, and I obviously I wish he hadn’t gotten out of the car in the first place, but it was still a clear cut case of self-defense after that. His problems with the law didn’t start until after that case or he wouldn’t have been able to have CCW permit.

            You’ve also failed to mention that the media does not report on, or tries to cover up black on white (often random and brutal attacks) or refuses to describe the suspects. I know it’s a sensitive subject, but by refusing to acknowledge that it’s a problem makes it much worse in the long run.

  5. Ian Shaw June 25, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    It is coming across as just a gesture. Putting blame on an object rather than the person. But here’s the real irony. All the politicians including President Obama calling for the flag to come down, but it’s ok for President Obama to say the ‘N’ word publically. Once does not have to look for a contradiction to see one here.

    • James Stanton June 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

      I think you’ve fallen into a pc trap here while playing the contradiction game. There is a First Amendment right for individuals to fly the rebel flag as there is to use the “N” word. Yet, you, me, and President Obama are not free from public criticism for flying that flag or using that word. The difference is that you have erased the historical context in which President Obama has used the “N” word and which make it appropriate for use. You can also refer to the “N” word in its historical context freely but should probably think about why it is ok for a black man to use the full word in that context and perhaps unwise and inappropriate for a white man to do the same.

      • Brian Holland June 25, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

        That’s the point! Obama said it because he can get away with it, and he is a true radical in that he wants to keep racial tension and animosity alive among blacks. He doesn’t want reconciliation. He went to Jeremiah Wright’s church for crying out loud. The news casts can’t even play him saying the word! And if a white politician said exactly what he said in the exact same context, his career would be over!

        • James Stanton June 25, 2015 at 7:20 pm #

          I do not think it much of an indignity to have say the “N Word” while blacks are allowed to use the word freely. Even so, the President did not use this word to denigrate anyone neither did he use a milder form to greet a fellow African-American. I think this whole charade is an example of what some refer to as pearl clutching.

          • Brian Holland June 25, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

            It’s not an indignity. We would be much better served in letting the word die out. Obama would rather keep it alive, and I would argue that’s for political reasons. We should all be united in wanting to see that word gone forever, it’s a word that is only meant to injure and cause pain. It’s also unbecoming of the president like when he said about the BP oil spill “I’m going to have to find out who’s a** I have to kick.” Do you want your president talking like that? I know I don’t. Public profanity is another sign of our cultural demise.

            And again please note that I’m not trying to be divisive in stating the obvious. Black Americans voted for the most anti-biblical candidate in history because of the color of his skin at a rate that would have made Saddam Hussein envious, because he didn’t have to put a gun to their heads. I want reconciliation more than almost anything else in the world, but I’m also a realist.

  6. barryjoslin June 25, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    As one who utterly hates every form of racism and despise that long held practice in American life, I don’t know how white Christians, with a straight face, can look at our African American brothers and sisters, point to the stars and bars, put our arms around them and say “Get over it – it’s just a flag and a historical symbol.”

    Yes, it is a flag – a flag that was raised over the capitals of many states in a racial defiance. Yes, it is a historical symbol, but for so so many in SC and elsewhere, it’s not a neutral symbol. The history that it symbolizes is painful and shameful. It’s a painful reminder of Jim Crow (fellow white folks – have you ever actually read the Jim Crow laws??). If it causes a fellow saint pain, take it down. We’re not talking the cross here, but it seems that more ink is being spilled over this flag than the many crosses that have been taken down and discarded. Now what does that tell us?

    If we are ever going to truly de-segregate as fellow saints of God, then we can’t defend with a straight face the stumbling blocks to that end. As a WASP, I don’t get to tell my many black brothers and sisters what shouldn’t cause them pain. If it does, then we cannot dismiss their pain and continue to cherish the commandment to love our neighbors.

    Where so many good folks have gone wrong is that they assume that this flag is neutral. It is not. When I see it, even as a white Southerner, it causes me pain and I am embarrassed – no, angered – by it. I would never allow the symbol in my home, just like I’d never allow a swastika to be displayed.

    Barry

  7. Johnny Mason June 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    I am against flying the flag over state property. It was the right thing to do to pull it down, but this “book burning” by the Internet Puritans is getting way out of hand. We are now contemplating the censoring of “Gone With the Wind”, the banishment of Civil War games from the Apple Store, and the tearing down of the Jefferson Memorial. If this madness doesn’t abate, they may actually convert the flag from a symbol of racism and slavery into a symbol of free speech.

    • Chris Ryan June 25, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

      In Germany, after WW2 they made flying the Swastika a crime. I’ve never understood why we didn’t do the same. I believe in free speech, but once you commit treason you surrender that right. We wouldn’t support the Boston Bombmer, Dhokar Tsarnaev, flying ISIS’ or Al Qaeda’s flag, we shouldn’t support flying the Confederate flag. I’ve spent most of my life in the South but America has one flag, the Stars & Stripes, may God forever bless it. 🙂

      • buddyglass June 25, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

        “once you commit treason you surrender that right”

        Nope.

        • Chris Ryan June 25, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

          I guess Dzhokar Tsarnaev is free to wave whatever flag he can make out of his bed sheet, but our prisons afford ppl who commit treason very few rights, and an expansive freedom of speech is not one of them.

  8. Curt Day June 25, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    With the flag being a symbol of racism, amongst other traits, taking it down would only be a gesture. But some gestures are necessary. Taking down the confederate flag is a necessary gesture. And sometimes, as stated at the end of the blogpost, gestures can become more than just gestures.

    • Brian Holland June 25, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

      I’m glad it’s on the way out. It is a divisive, hurtful symbol to most blacks, but unfortunately I don’t think this is going to make things any better. I think unfortunately race relations will continue to get worse. There will be more and more calls for banning other things that are deemed offensive, and far too many blacks will continue to blame white people for their problems. The only real reason for hope on this front is that there are those courageous few black Christians who take the Bible seriously (like my wife) who are fed up with this non-sense, and are wiling to condemn the hatred as self-destructive, and counterproductive.

      • Curt Day June 26, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

        Brian,
        It isn’t the banning of things that will worsen race relations. It is the neglect of contributory factors to racism that could make race relations worse. For Martin Luther King Jr. it is our society’s thing-oriented direction that will continue to make race relations worse. Why? Being thing-oriented, rather than person-oriented, causes people to care more about profits, gadgets, and property rights more than they care about people. And for as long as that happens, materialism/economic exploitation, racism, and war/militarism, which are inextricably linked according to King, will continue.

        • Brian Holland June 26, 2015 at 11:29 pm #

          No that’s not what I said. Again I’m glad to see it gone, but we need to be clear if we value truth that it was the Democrats that rallied around the flag, as the Rebuplicans were the party of Lincoln, and then the party of the civil rights movement. That’s just being historically accurate. Obviously today most Republicans stand for nothing except what their Chamber of Commerce big donors tell them to stand for, but that’s a different story.

          My point was that barring a miraculous shift it won’t improve race relations as a large percentage of blacks will still blame whites and “white Supremacy” for the problems of black America, and that’s tragic, and wrong. Certainly the dream of Dr. King is dead on the Left. They don’t want a color blind society. Again my hope is that among black Christians that there can be an awakening to the catastrophic destruction caused by big government leftism of the Democratic party, and that they can instead embrace conservative biblical values. Short of that I see no solution.

  9. Joe Blankenship June 25, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

    Thank you Barry and Denny for your remarks. It really is as simple as love for Jesus means I will love others. Amen to both your responses.

  10. Gus Nelson June 25, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

    I agree with many of the comments suggesting that the Confederate flag isn’t an appropriate symbol for our government to fly, given its clear connection to slavery. That said, we need to be very careful before we rush to judgment about its true impact. Symbols do matter, but they can also matter in the same way Nazi Swastikas matter: we remember the wrong that was done and we are reminded of the evil done under its banner. Moreover, Christians should be especially careful about proclaiming a willingness to ban any symbol. I would not want to offend my brother with such a symbol and would not display such a flag. That said, I don’t want to ban it just because it’s offensive. The cross is a great offense to many, but I sure don’t want it banned.

  11. Ron LaFitte June 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    Denny, I agree whole heartily with your assessment that as believers in Christ, we have an obligation to esteem our brothers and sisters in the Lord in this matter. I am wondering, however what will be our reaction to those who will use a new rhetoric to elicit support to remove our American Flag , a flag that many claim purports that our freedom was obtained in an indecorous manner. Then we must measure the distinctiveness of all of our public symbols. Are we opening Pandora’s box ?

  12. Gus Nelson June 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    And before I get any ridiculous pushback, NO, I am not comparing the Confederate flag to the cross.

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