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Christian Ethic #2 for this conversation:

So, what about in 2017? Should we be removing monuments to Confederate Leaders?

Well, there certainly is wisdom in doing so… and then a Christian ethic for doing so.

First, the wisdom – and from what you might consider an unlikely source:

Lexington, VA., August 5, 1869.

Dear Sir–Absence from Lexington has prevented my receiving until to-day your letter of the 26th ult., inclosing an invitation from the Gettysburg Battle-field Memorial Association, to attend a meeting of the officers engaged in that battle at Gettysburg, for the purpose of marking upon the ground by enduring memorials of granite the positions and movements of the armies on the field. My engagements will not permit me to be present. I believe if there, I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.

Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee.

Obviously, I cannot know the heart of the long-dead General.  Why did he prefer that there not be monuments for the American Civil War?

Was he ashamed of defeat? Did he somewhat regret his role in the Civil War (as I was raised to believe)? I don’t know. However, his advice, at least in this case, was to “commit to oblivion the feelings engendered”.   Whose feelings was he concerned about? I am not sure, but I think everyone’s. Who is hurting? Who is wounded?

“Let us remove the unnecessary reminders of those wounds.”   Maybe he had really come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth the pain it caused anyone anymore.

This concern for the feelings of others brings about the second Christian Ethic, also found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:3-8)

Paul tells us that looking after others as though they were more significant than us, is the very mind of Christ, and thus should be followed.   Paul fleshes this out in Romans 14 further. If what I am doing, even if my motivation for doing it isn’t wrong, unnecessarily offends a sincere brother or sister in Christ, it should be a relatively easy call for someone who has already committed to death for the sake of Christ!

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)

If I am committed to dying to myself, then if a sincere brother asks me to stand alongside of him while we remove a monument to a part of history that he is asked to honor (by sending his children to a school named after someone who fought to defend a state’s rights to own people, for example), then even if I like that monument, it should be an easy call!

And, honestly, it is for me.

There is an African American pastor here in Tyler who is also a school principal. I have sat under his teaching numerous times. He is an excellent Bible teacher. I don’t know him as well as I should, but I certainly think of him as a friend, brother-in-Christ and a fellow worker and warrior. If Steven asked me (and he hasn’t, yet) to stand with him in an effort to change the name of a school in our district or to remove a statue that his congregation found offensive, I would happily do so.

He has faced racism in ways that caused me to shake with anger.

God knows that I would love to confront a group of White Supremacists about my reasons… especially one that claims to be a Christian organization (like the pathetic modern KKK apparently does). Please let me debate one of them on a stage. (If any of you are reading this, please learn some Hermeneutical techniques!)

But what if a Civil War re-enactment group wanted to use our facilities to practice? Should I refuse them – or at least those dressed in Confederate garb? What if I know them personally and I know they are not racists? I am sure someone would be offended by a yes or no answer. Maybe part of the Christian ethic would be to ask a wise, sincere member Christ-following representative of that group who might be unnecessarily offended and get their wisdom, too.

This stuff gets hard quickly. At least we have the Christian ethic of loving one another, dying to self, and looking first after the interest of others. It doesn’t make things less complicated, but it does mean there is a way to engage with these questions with grace and strength.

So, if this is the ethic, then it should be easy to make this call, right? I stand with all African American brothers and sisters and who want the statues down, right? Well, yes. However, how do I do it with the same consideration of the brothers and sisters who see these monuments as important to them?

As much as it is the American way to allow people to speak freely, even if the speaker is an ignorant hate monger. There is no freedom of speech if only inoffensive speech is protected.

Much moreso, it is the Christian ethic that if we only love lovable people, there is nothing special about following Jesus with His radical ethic of loving the “unlovable”.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same?” Luke 6:32-33

For more on this ethic, see also: Matt 5:43-48 Luke 6:27-32, Romans 5:8, I John 4:19.

There is another part of this mental exercise that I promised to comment on before I was done. This is primarily what makes it so hard to jump in on either side. People who I know well enough to discern that their motivation for being vocal about this immediate issue is toxic. They are motivated by a disease that is perhaps the main pollutant of current American culture. I referenced it in my opening remarks many pieces of this article ago when I referenced that it must be Screwtape’s dream come true (a reference to CS Lewis’ brilliant and somewhat terrifying (at the deep level, not the jump scare level) book “Screwtape Letters”.

Some of you might have noticed that earlier, I used the phrase “a sincere brother or sister in Christ.” I wonder if that raised any eyebrows.

I don’t just mean someone who sincerely feels something.   By definition, “sincerity” (as well as “authenticity” “genuine-ness” etc.) means “the same over time or under pressure”, right?

Well, then, feelings, though perhaps honestly what someone feels at the moment, cannot really be thought of as sincere, since they are so vulnerable to change.

(As I have considered making a more vocal statement about supporting

and even agreeing with the decision to move Confederate monuments, etc. into private collections or even museums – maybe even a whole new type of “monument museums” that could engage in the complexity of the conversation – I continue to see people, often the front people, engaged and I know them well enough to know that I don’t want to be lumped in with them.  Let them become part of history rather than to have places of honor.

To ask someone to remember something is appropriate for many different reasons, some of which have be enunciated here.  To remember is wise (ask about Holocaust museums, for example).  To ask

someone to honor someone who they believe was wrong is very different thing and is often wrong.)

But when it comes to drawing attention to my own opinions, especially without explaining them, I don’t want people to assume the same motives on me that they are probably rightly assuming on these other people. This brings me to my last rant in this rant-heavy article:

The Crisis Culture and our response (****)

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… (read part 1 if you haven’t yet) And, in the continued research, I discovered that there are dozens of various statues and monuments to the man, especially in South Carolina. Schools, streets, and a city are named for him. Because of his military prowess, a ship was named after him in WWII.

I want to give an insider explanation about one aspect of this argument – Civil War Monuments are not there to celebrate American History. They are there to celebrate Confederate History and Confederate leaders – notice that there are very few Confederate leader monuments north of the Mason-Dixon line.

At this point, I am still not offering my opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of these existing, but I wanted to clarify that the argument that this is about “American” history is not necessarily true.

The Civil War was certainly part of our history, but these monuments are there to celebrate the Confederacy and her leadership, not the US and hers – and typically in competition with the other.

These were people who declared themselves independent from their federal government and tried to establish what they thought was a more perfect union that the Union at that time. They fought for State’s Rights; sadly, the main State’s Right they were fighting to defend was racial slavery – The “right” (shudder to use that word here) to own another human being as property. How could any reasoning human being have ever thought that was ok? I don’t know…

Side note – I do think that the nearest equivalent we have today is abortion. For mostly financial reasons, we determine that one human being is not worthy to have life, liberty, etc. It is an industry built around something morally wicked that we are not willing to expel because of what it would cost us individually and culturally…

But most cultures in history have thought slavery (and killing children) was acceptable at some point. We aren’t talking about the most common biblical kind of slavery – what we would call indentured servitude – largely the choice of the servant.

This is what is known as Southern Antebellum (meaning “before the war”) Slavery, and it was almost exclusively racial.   The culture of the South before the Civil War was almost entirely dependent on slavery.

Wade Hampton, for example, found that it was nearly impossible to turn a profit on his farms without free labor.

For those who do not know first hand, “Southern,” is a thing, and it’s not all or even primarily about racism.  “Southern” exists independent of racism.

Southern heritage is a real thing… and, like every other aspect of history, not an all good nor all bad thing. There is Southern cuisine, southern style, and southern art. There are certainly Southern courtesies and ethics. As an insider, I will tell you that the role of racism in “southern” anything has lost a lot of ground in the last few generations (and I assume consistently since the evil of Antebellum Racial Slavery was ended).

Even in the deep South, in a white-only situation, I rarely hear any kind of racially offensive humor or openly racist remarks… and I would admit it if the opposite were true – because it was when I was younger.

As a teenager, racially charged jokes were still common when there were only white kids around. Few of those kids probably had any serious racist sentiment in their hearts, but they thought they could get a laugh with a joke about a different race. However, even that has become very rare. I honestly cannot remember the last time I heard someone tell such a joke or use a slang term for any other race than Caucasians, not counting media.

How awful, ironic and hypocritical that Southern Hospitality is a thing. It really still is.  Driving across the country, I can begin to feel the sense of being welcomed and wanted – and engaged with by everyone from the gas station attendant to anyone you ask for help… I love that aspect of the South.  I think hospitality is a pure gold and is a beautiful thing!

But, what if my African American friends don’t experience that?  That is a hateful tragedy.  I am realizing now that some aspects of Southern Hospitality haven’t been for everyone.  I hate that.

Do you feel unwanted and unwelcome?  I pray that is by a tiny minority of people – I would pray that anyone of any race or color attending my church would experience extreme levels of hospitality.

The highest level of injustice would be that I experience that Southern hospitality every bit as much from black people as white people!

I know there are plenty of people who have every reason to expect a sense of hatred and dismissal when they engage with white people, though.  I have some friends good enough to tell me about their experiences with openly, unashamed racist people.  Apparently essentially every African American has experiences of this kind. It so infuriates me that it helps me understand the levels of anger felt by those who experience it… God knows racists of this breed are real and truly intentional racist behavior is a reality still… but I have never it seen as an adult in front of me.

I have never heard anyone brag about committing such an act.   But they certainly happen. They should never happen. That level of hatred and dismissal of another human is un-defendable.

What I do still hear regularly is “unintentional” racism. Things are said or done that reveal an ethno-centric tendency. It is HARD for us to see outside of our own instinctive ways of understanding things. (People ask all kinds of ridiculous questions about our adopted children – they don’t intend to be offensive , and they may even intend to be encouraging or seeking understanding).

Example – a common response I am hearing from those around me about re-naming our local “Robert E Lee” High School is “It doesn’t matter to me what we call it – it just isn’t a big deal…”

Notice that the person is making the effort to be conciliatory, but are still ethno-centric.  Their attitude may seem right and might be at the personal level, but sounds like it implies that the issue can be ignored or dismissed as “not a big deal.”

Perhaps to them, at the personal level, it isn’t a big deal, but it may be a very big deal to someone whose history doesn’t include a “grand Civil War General”, but a slave of that General.

They may not be at all dismissing the argument, but if an issue is a big deal to you, then it can easily feel dismissive.  See how that is unintentional ethno-centism?

I hope everyone can be patient and graceful with “well-meaning” human frailties in which even when the spirit is willing, the habit, ignorance, blindness, flesh is weak.

So, with all of that in mind… we are to the actual topic, I think.

Do we rename our schools? Do we take down the monuments?  Change the name of streets?

I think there was a day in which that answer was “no”. We were a literate enough and complicated enough culture to have the conversation in a healthy way and less likely to unnecessarily offend.

We (I admit that I am not sure who “we” is in this sentence. It seems that writings from the past and debates, like the debates about the Declaring of Independence or even slavery, indicate that people used to be able to have deep, complex, respectful conversations and even disagreements about things. But, were those all educated, well-off white people I am referring to? Did things like slavery give them the hours to do that instead of work? Even this is complex) could talk about the way people are complex. This isn’t new. One of the things I love about the Bible, for example, is that almost anyone who gets any press at all has at least a part of their lives revealed as dark, sinful, and reprehensible!

Abraham’s family all had a serious issue with dishonesty. They had a nasty tendency to lie their way out of problems, or at least to attempt to do so.

Many of the patriarchs were idol worshipers for at least some part of their lives; they could be unreasonable, easily misdirected and worse!

Of course, famously, King David managed to break pretty much all of the Ten Commandments in just a few months.

In the New Testament, the disciples were clueless at the best of times and deniers at the worst.

It is part of how we can know these were real people who behaved like real people and whose lives were complex – like real people.

People are complex? Read more (**** link to come)

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Throughout Christian history, people have made great use, and sometimes great abuse, of the Holy Bible to seek to explain the diversity of human beings.

Obviously, in various ways, people are different from one another, and sometimes those differences are obvious – like skin tone. For years, people have used those skin tone differences to create otherwise completely arbitrary differences.

I am of the opinion that there is actually only one “race” of humans – that is the human race. I wish we could understand it that way.

I think it is best to think of any genotype or phenotype differences understood differently.   Usually that is what we think of as “race”.   However, I feel like the differences between people that create most problems today are about ethnic or cultural diversity, not strictly color (or race) differences.

Notice how quickly people will reject another person who has the same skin tone but different political views or backgrounds.

Rather than digging into a ton of materials, I will not be citing other authors here.  That is only partially laziness and the knowledge of what an internet search on the “theology of race” tends to draw as results (wow).

One, I want o offer up my own views and be right or wrong here on my own merits. So, this is MY theology on race.

Two, I wanted to challenge the different biblical opinions that I have been taught or shown throughout my Christian life by checking them via scripture and reason rather than other theologians; I typically study other’s views and think that is important, but on this topic, I wanted to engage alone.

I know and have learned over the years that I have many unintentional racist and prejudiced views. Though I certainly had some overt bigotry as a young man, (***link to appear later) I repented of those views long ago; since then, I have had a chance to slowly learn, through international travel (and getting to be the minority at times), mission work with and for all kinds of ethnic groups, and intimate conversations with friends who were part of minority groups and willing to educate me about my own views… and the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal pride and sin.

Anyway, I pray that the Church, and my church in particular would continue to grow up in this. We have been tossed around like in the waves… accepting absurd views because we were told to accept them; accepting what people say the Bible says because we were told to accept them.

Ok, so on to the scriptural perspectives:

Here are some theories about the “Genesis” of Racial/Ethnic Diversity I have seen:

  1. Cain

I was told early on that the first black man was Cain. I have no idea where I heard this nonsensical “theory”, but here it is nevertheless:

Gen 4:15-16

Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

What was this mark?

I was told that God made Cain black and this was his mark.

Of course, this is absurd. If you think Cain was even an early human, much less the third one ever, then we now know that if there were an historical Adam and Eve, they would probably have been pretty dark skinned and from North Africa or some part of the Fertile Crescent. Anglo is really not a very valid theory for them, despite the old Sunday School pictures of them.

However, even if you don’t buy in to any evidence outside of the Bible, remember that with the biblical story of Noah, only one “race” would have survived the flood – so what would this have to do with modern race? All of Cain’s progeny would have died out. If Cain were initiation of the black “race” – why would there be any black people alive today.

Like I said, no matter how you look at that one, it is nonsensical.

Next, Shem, Ham & Japheth…

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