Think of the sudden rush to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds and license plates. I understand the flag’s symbolism—slavery, white supremacy, harsh and violent racial discrimination. I understand other symbolism of the flag—the South’s states’ rights, the historical significance of the Civil War, and the memory of men who died in that war. It’s a mixed bag, though perhaps weighted on the slavery side.
Politicians aren’t alone in this rush to remove. Yesterday Amazon and eBay announced they’d no longer permit the sale of Confederate flags and similarly-themed merchandise. Walmart and Sears had previously decided the same. Now Confederate statues and street names are suspiciously racist.
On one hand, the rush to remove can be a healthy sign: the nation wants to take another step toward racial unity. One hopes that’s the case. On the other hand, my admittedly cynical side suspects politicians and corporations don’t want to be branded racist—bad for business. So: do SOMETHING!
How about taking the opposite tact? Retain the flag as a reminder of the racism we want never to repeat. That’s probably too subtle and suspect.
But removing the flag remains a small step. Politicians and corporations will pat themselves on the back. Yet no one presumes (to paraphrase astronaut Neil Armstrong) this one small step for man is one giant leap for mankind.
Remove or retain. Symbolism is in the eye of the beholder. Neither action will change history—or, more significantly, the human heart. That’s what Huckabee was getting at and what Dr. Ben Carson (another candidate) explicitly claimed is the issue.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). According to the prophet, our innermost being is dishonest, treacherous, untrustworthy and deeply perverse. No one can fully know the heart. The image of God in humans has been morally corrupted (though it remains and is why all human life matters).
But according to Jeremiah the LORD spoke of the day when, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33a). Through Ezekiel the LORD said, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26).
The apostle Paul wrote how God fulfilled that promise that through Christ: ” . . . God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). ” . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:23).
Admittedly, before the Civil War many southern Christians were slaveholders. Dr. Albert Mohler branded them heretics. Read his courageous comments here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/06/23/the-heresy-of-racial-superiority-confronting-the-past-and-confronting-the-truth/. Mohler argues they acted contrary to the Christian faith. It’s a reminder that conversion must be lived out as a choice. Our sinful nature remains, even when we’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is why the apostle Paul urges the church: ” . . . walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). In other words, trust the Spirit to empower you to obey Christ’s teachings.
Certainly every non-Christian isn’t a racist. But the cure for the hate-fillled heart is the Holy Spirit-filled heart through faith in Christ.
At no time was that more evident than when the relatives of the murdered members of Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C. publicly forgave their loved ones’ killer.
Our black brothers and sisters in Christ
showed us that a new heart filled with the love of Christ
packs more transforming power than the pulling down of any flag.