South Carolina & the Confederate Flag
I’m a South Carolina transplant, having left my beloved old Kentucky home five years ago to move from one blessed place to another. Truly, we love living in South Carolina, where our days are filled with friendly folks and family adventures (swim at a beach and hike a mountain on the same day!). The food isn’t bad, either.
The history, though, is peculiar and complex, both glorious and haunted. The fierce love of freedom and deep patriotism mingle with the scars of oppression and still-open wounds of inequality. Here, history lives. After moving to Anderson, I discovered that I’m not the first in my family to walk these grounds. My great-great grandfather marched through Anderson with the 12th Kentucky Infantry in 1864—a Union regiment. When I posted this on social media, some really were offended—not in a racist, “the South shall rise again!” way, but because what I noted resurfaced their pain. And pain is the point. They still feel the sting of defeat and retell stories of their own grandparents scraping and scrounging to survive in the post-Civil War era.
The brutality perpetrated at Mother Emmanuel AME Church has brought us, once again, to think about Southern heritage, and, most notably, the Confederate battle flag that waves on the grounds of the South Carolina state house. In recent days, a few poignant perspectives have emerged on both sides. I’ll note four.
Russell Moore argues that in view of the flag’s current assigned meaning and the biblical demand to love our neighbors, it should come down.
Rod Dreher agrees and, while noting the validity of some pro-flag arguments, believes the symbol can’t be redeemed.
Conversely, David French argues that we shouldn’t remove the flag from Confederate memorials because we shouldn’t erase history.
Alongside French, Doug Wilson presents a less convincing argument that the Confederate flag should stay because, after all, even Old Glory is fraught with less-than-noble causes, such as abortion.
With these complexities in view, the South Carolina state house case should be considered within its own, peculiar context. The Confederate battle flag (rectangular, Army of Tennessee version) that once flew above the state house dome wasn’t placed there until 1962, and then by an all-white legislature in the midst of integration and the Civil Rights Movement.
The flag was raised, ostensibly, to commemorate the war’s centennial (at least according to the official statement by then-Governor Holllings), but its obvious association with segregationist politics overshadowed the pretext. The flag wasn’t an enduring symbol of history or heritage on the grounds, but was introduced at a key moment to make a specific statement. The legislature (that represented South Carolinians) was somehow threatened by the civil rights movement, and acted with a gesture of resistance. In 2000, by means of a long-negotiated compromise (think about that), South Carolina passed a bill that removed the battle flag from the dome, but raised a more traditional version (square-shaped) of it beside a Confederate memorial on the grounds in front of the state house. The prominent position of the memorial and height of the flag effectively make it the welcome sign to the state’s most significant property.
A symbol is much like a word or phrase in that the intent for its use conveys as much meaning as the symbol itself. The reason the Confederate flag was raised on the state house grounds in the first place makes its message particularly ominous, differing significantly from other Confederate memorials. Placed on the dome in defiance of civil rights and moved to the memorial as the result of a compromise, this flag is offensive to African-Americans and other minorities in a way that trumps other memorials. This, too, in a nation that claims “liberty and justice for all.” Indeed, the ugly parts of our heritage should be remembered, but the flag at the state house does more. It celebrates, even imposes upon citizens—to whom the grounds belong—the most painful, ugly parts of Southern heritage. And pain is the point. A Christian citizen simply cannot read the last third of Paul’s letter to the Romans and not acknowledge the offense. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (13:10), and “let us pursue what makes for peace” (14:19). The flag must come down. Moore is right, “We can give gratitude to where we’ve come from without perpetuating symbols of pretend superiority over others.”
Header image provided through creative commons. Adaptation from a photograph by eyeliam
Dr. Chuck Fuller comes to Anderson University with 13 years of experience in pastoral ministry, serving churches in Kentucky and Indiana. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from Campbellsville University, and an MDiv and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in Christian preaching, with additional studies in systematic theology and philosophy. Before arriving at AU, Dr. Fuller was pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and adjunct professor of Christian preaching at Boyce College of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, Dr. Fuller has served on committees and boards of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Married to Jessie, Dr. Fuller and his wife have two children–Kaylen Marie and Ian Charles. Jessie holds a Bachelor of Bible from Ozark Christian College, with a concentration in deaf ministry. Currently, Jessie works as a stay-at-home mom and brilliant culinary artist.
Homiletical theology comprises Dr. Fuller’s primary research area, as demonstrated in his recent book, The Trouble With “Truth Through Personality”: Phillips Brooks, Incarnation, and the Evangelical Boundaries of Preaching. Dr. Fuller also presented a paper, titled “The Pulpit at the Precipice of Heresy,” at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Homiletical Society.