Today, I added my name to the following letter regarding the Mississippi state flag.
To: The Clarion-Ledger Editorial Board
Date: June 24, 2015
We are each Baptist pastors in Mississippi. We recognize all forms of racism as sin, and we acknowledge the sin of racism in our own hearts, in our Baptist churches, and in the people of this good but wounded state. We lament the violence and the bloodshed and also the everyday dehumanization that are the result of this vicious sin, and as the prophet Jeremiah said of Rachel, we “refuse to be consoled” so long as our brothers and sisters face any degradation.
As we seek the peace and the well-being of this good, but fractured state, we call upon Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislature to act immediately to change our state flag.
The current flag contains a powerful symbolic reminder of a war, waged by our own ancestors to maintain a system of chattel slavery. It evokes a history of Jim Crow subjugation of black people. It has been flown as a sign of defiance of integration, and we believe that such defiance is sinful.
In our own baptisms we promised to turn from sin and renounce evil, so as pastors we also call upon all believing Christians in Mississippi to make their voices heard and to stand up to evil. We all know that we inherit a legacy of looking away while evil has been perpetuated in our midst. Now is the time to turn away from this symbol, to open our eyes and mouths, and to speak up for what is right and true.
May our words and deeds unite with our most important state symbols to express the hospitality of our good state, creating a place of welcome for all people.
Rusty Edwards, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg
Jay Lynn, Pastor of St. Martin Baptist Fellowship in Gulfport
Bert Montgomery, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Starkville
Chuck Strong, Pastor of Olive Branch Fellowship in Olive Branch
Gabe Swann, Pastor of Church Arise in Decatur
Stan Wilson, Pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Clinton
When given the opportunity to add my name, I didn’t hesitate, but it was not a decision made in haste and without thought. Beyond incorporating a time of recognition and remembrance of the massacre in Charleston in our Sunday worship, I was hoping for an authentic and appropriate opportunity to express my thoughts. I felt as though there was little I could add to the noise already surrounding the issue. Having taken a public stand in my capacity as a pastor, it became appropriate for me to explain my thoughts on the issue.
I’m not a huge fan of political correctness in its extreme. The hubris of the internet age has allowed all of us to become indignant with a hair trigger over any perceived slight. I recently ran afoul of someone who took offense at my use of the word “unchurched” to describe those who had no long-term relationship with a faith community. That struck me as a ridiculous argument, especially after I stated that I would be happy to use a different word if they could supply one. They didn’t. All language has limitations, and we can’t walk on eggshells, constantly worried that any small group of individuals may take offense at what we say.
That’s not what this is about.
This is about a flag that should represent the entire population of a state and yet contains a symbol that has been used to intimidate and belittle nearly half of that same population.
“But that flag has nothing to do with slavery.”
“This is about honoring history and the sacrifice of confederate soldiers.”
“If anyone used this flag for hateful acts, then they stole it and twisted its purpose.”
It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter because the confederate battle flag has come to be associated with hate and oppression and, like it or not, you can’t reclaim it. You may be proud of your Southern heritage and see nothing objectionable in that flag, but that symbol has been taken from you. Without your consent, that symbol has been adopted by an entire segment of society that actively hates people different from themselves. This cannot be undone.
Symbols change. Do you think early Christians looked at a Roman torture device like the cross and said, “Hey, that looks cool. Let’s use that for our symbol.” Time has turned that symbol of torture into one of Grace and Hope. It’s now something else entirely.
The swastika was a positive symbol denoting luck and well-being for thousands of years until it became associated with Nazism. Now, it is illegal to display a swastika in many countries because of its association with hatred and destruction. It doesn’t matter what it originally represented. That meaning is lost for most of us in the Western World.
Let the confederate flag fly over Civil War memorials. We should honor anyone who gives their life in defense of others and their ideals. We should not seek to gloss over history, regardless of who “won.”
I don’t care if Amazon continues to sell products designed with that flag. People should have the right to decorate their lives however they wish. If that symbol has a different meaning to them and they are willing to allow others to make assumptions about their character as a result, then that’s their issue.
However, I do care very much that a state government that represents its residents should strive to actually represent all of those citizens. It doesn’t matter what the confederate flag means to you. What matters is that, for a significant number of people in this state, it represents hatred and discrimination. When a symbol ceases to represent all of its constituents, it’s time to look for a new symbol.
Mississippi needs a new flag.