White Northerners and the Confederate Flag

This screen capture is from a Huffington Post article about the rally held at Ole Miss, two days ago, after the student body called to remove the state flag of Mississippi (far right in the picture). Click here for article.

Capture

Yes, you read that right. A “pro-secessionist” group. They still exist.

Every time the Confederate Flag comes up, I find myself trying to explain to my fellow white people why there is a problem with it. I am a white guy, who was raised in the Deep South. So you might see me as an unlikely anti-flag person. But having moved to “the North” (Most think of it as the Mid-west), I find white people’s ignorance of the issue here, even more troubling than those non-ignorant (but racist) proponents of the flag in the South.

First off, what we call today the “Confederate Flag” for the majority of the war was not the flag of the Confederacy. In fact, it was the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It later grew in popularity (due to the popularity of that particular unit) and was adopted elsewhere, and only briefly was on the last of several flags of the Confederate States of America. In reality, it hardly ever flew over the South. It’s addition to other flags, such as state flags of Mississippi and Georgia, would not come until much later and was done very intentionally by racists to show that they could still hold power over African Americans. This often delves into an argument about what the Civil War was really over. Let me go ahead and tell you that the only state’s rights at issue were the right to have slaves and the right to have your escaped slaves returned from non-slave states. So don’t say “state’s rights” is different from slavery. If you don’t think the Civil War was about slavery, go read the secession statements of each of the states that joined the Confederacy. Apparently, those guys thought it was about slavery.

Second, the conversation usually then turns to said Northerner telling me the flag is about “white heritage” or “white pride.” Then I explain that they aren’t really making much of a case about not being a racist. Those are the words and phrases popularized by racist organizations (such as those pictured above) decades ago. Who used the flag as a symbol of intimidation and power over people of color. So you fly your flag and you use those words…..I’m going to assume you are a racist, as are many other white people and a lot of people of color. (If you want, instead, we can assume you are really just completely ignorant. Your choice I guess.)

Here is the funny thing about flags. They are social constructs. They have no intrinsic meaning despite the best efforts of flag aficionados. They are symbols that get their meaning from how, when, and where they are used. So no one individual gets to decide what they mean. The masses get to decide. And you have been outvoted.

This is followed by one of two things: a surprising few admit they are racist and out comes a series of expletives and derisive words for people of color and people “like me.” (Which always seems to then somehow resort back to accusations about my patriotism and religious beliefs although I don’t see the correlation.) More often though, it results in them huffing and puffing and scoffing away, which I consider a win. Because somewhere, deep down, they realized, I just might be right. And I realized they may not be a total idiot after all which makes it a win-win.

If you really want to talk about pride or heritage in the context of the Civil War, why would you not take the side of the North? You know, the people who saw a great wrong being done and acted against it. Why would you not fly the battle flag of a Northern unit? There were many highly decorated and courageous ones. Maybe one from your state? Maybe one your ancestors actually fought under?

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Photo vs film? How do you see your congregation?

Our church is what it is the moment you joined it. At that moment you agree that you accept it and it accepts you. After all, who joins a church for “where it is going”? People join a church for “where it is” socially, culturally, theologically, spiritually, and physically. From that point on, any change, difference of opinion, or adaptation to circumstances means a derivation of what you both agreed to on the day you joined. And if all parties don’t agree, then obviously they have the option of leaving. No one is forced to stay.

I like to think of that moment as a photograph. A beautiful photograph capturing a special moment. A moment now locked in time and not able to be changed. And a picture is further limited. You can’t look just outside the frame or see what is going on behind the camera. Nothing comes or goes from a picture.But, we need to stop dwelling on those photographs. They are beautiful, informative, and fun to reminisce about but their limitations limit us. We need to start filming movies. We need to tell stories over time with actors and occasionally a plot twist. Your opinions of characters, ideas, and sub-plots change as the movie goes on. A movies is constantly full of new revelations about characters, places, sub-plots, and even the main story often from places outside of the view of the first camera angle.

Our church story never ends and we try to keep it constantly moving towards a happy ending. Our members should all be actors not bystanders or extras. We all need to take a role and help work towards that happy ending. Use our photographs to look back and tell the back story in the movie but we won’t spend the whole movie staring at them.

Pictures are worth a thousand words but they are words locked in time. We need to think of our church as a ongoing movie to which we are walking into as actors. We are not limited by a single photograph of ourselves (we all had that awkward phase) why should our church be? When we constantly try to keep only that first photograph as our view of the church, we not only limit the church, we limit ourselves and our own opportunities for growth.