In my new city, we are famous for our downtown square. Every month, there is a square party with music, dancing, food, and games. It is a great time to let off a little steam on a weekend. The first Walton 5 & 10 is still there, many good restraunts and coffee shops are scattered around. And then, standing in the direct middle of the square, is a statue of James Berry.
James Berry was an Arkansas politician who served multiple terms as an Arkansas Representative. He was Governor after the civil War and buried here in Bentonville. He is depicted as his first role, a Confederate soldier.
We find ourselves again having a great race debate in this country and part of that debate is asking the questions “What should we do with these Confederate monuments? What message do they send?”
If I’m honest, my first thought is, “They aren’t hurting anyone. They are merely stone, and a statue cannot hurt you.” But I am speaking as a white, Southern Protestant. Two generations of Sawrie’s fought for the Confederacy. I have lived in the South most of my life. And I love being Southern. SEC football is superior to all other types of football. Fried chicken is the perfect Sunday lunch, and I’ve used “y’all, buggy and catty-corner” all my life. I’ve grown up seeing these statues as stone pillars of a bygone era that’s never impacted me.
But the scars of Jim Crow still run deep in the South. We see the black and white photos and forget that segregation is only 60 years behind us. Some of you may still remember segregation. But my family was not harmed by the so called “separate but equal” division that was forced upon us. It was easy to move on because all we had to do was wash our hands and wake up the next day. We got over it. But our brothers and sisters did not. They still know the past, and they still are impacted. While Mr. Crow may have flown the coop, the impact remains. The majority of these monuments were erected either in the height of Jim Crow or the middle of the Civil Rights movement. Yes, different people react to things in different ways. But just because it doesn’t hurt me doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. And when I speak to Black Christians, they tell me it hurts.
It’s this subtle reminder of the position they once held. This clandestine statement that they were lesser. This image that they once were not imago Dei. This is something I cannot, I will not understand. I will never be daily reminded of my oppressor because I was never owned. No one ever fought to keep my family in bondage. No one ever tried to lynch my grandparents. They were always allowed to vote. i get scared when a cop is behind me because I don’t want to get a ticket, not because I think I will get shot for telling an officer I have a legal firearm (Philando Castile) or laying face down while handcuffed (Oscar Grant) or playing with a toy gun in a park by myself (Tamir Rice) or offending a white woman (Emmet Till). Our Christian brothers and sisters have told us, “This is what this means to us and it hurts”
And if we refuse to listen to our brothers and sisters when they say “This hurts us”, we are complicit in their pain. We may not be directly causing it, but we are not caring for them. We may not be tormenting them, but we are allowing their torment. When we march and fight for these symbols of racism to remain, we are the pain.
“But this isn’t about race” you may retort, “This is about our history and our heritage. This is a reminder of our dark past. We cannot forget where we come from.”
But there are museums full of our history, books full of accounts, and battlefields to mark important places, where yes those statues may be appropriate. There are far better ways to remember our past sins. And perhaps honoring and glorifying our past sins isn’t right.
“But it’s my right to fly that flag or to have that statue. I’m an American.” You certainly have that right. But one of the applications that we may take from Romans 14 is that if our liberty is harmful to a brother, it is our responsibility to take care of our brother, not his to get over it. We do not get to flaunt liberty at the expense of our brother.
But we do.
By these excuses and our fighting to maintain these symbols and banners that pain our brothers, the message is loud and clear. “My heritage is more important than your pain. My history, my sinful past is more important.” Or if we really said what our hearts said, “I love this statue more than I love you. You just need to get over the pain and the past, because this monument is more important than that.”
I love the South, and I love you dear Christian. But if you love a monument made in the image of a man more than you love your African American Brother made in the image of God- then maybe we’re more pagan than we’d like to admit. These monuments, our heritage, and our history are the new idol in Dixie. And we continue to elevate them over and above our brothers.
Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to is really your god” and Calvin said our hearts are perpetual idol makers. We may pretend that we would never flay our brother on the altar of Heritage, but we do. We may say that at the end of the day we love them more, but we are liars if we do not show them. They are worth thousands of times more than any monument- and our words say otherwise. We have been called to love fellow Christians above all others. Over every statue, heritage, and ounce of history. More than we love being Southern, and more than ourselves.
So yes, these statues do need to come down, because they have become more valuable to us than the lives of our brothers and sisters. So when they come down, let us not grumble and complain, but rather look to our neighbor and love them again.