Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 13:9
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40
You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Exodus 20:4
These are the scriptures that have been ringing in my ears as I watched the news coming out of Charlottesville, VA over the past few days. Walk humbly with your God, eschewing false idols/carved images, showing love to your fellow man–the kind of love you demand for yourself. The kind of love that would lay down its life that you might live free.
I’ve thought about those scriptures while watching people who call themselves Christians argue to maintain statues of men who were willing to die that other men might live enslaved, treated as animals or objects, to be bought and sold at the whim of a human master.
I watched a man commit murder over a statue.
I watched other men beat an unarmed man with flag poles over a statue.
And I have asked myself, where would Jesus have been in that crowd, and I’m afraid the answer is that he would have been either on the beating end of a flag pole or the hood ornament of a Dodge Challenger.
I was raised, making heroes of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I was raised to have pride in my Southern heritage, and devotion to the idea that we, as an oppressed group, would surely rise again. I loved that flag. I loved that song. I loved being part and parcel of the romance of the Antebellum South.
Then I met people who thought differently. I talked and argued, made an ass of myself on a regular basis and kept saying things like, “I’m not a racist, but…” until something got through to me. I don’t know what it was. I can’t even tell you when it happened. I just woke up and something had gotten through my thick head and into my heart.
Maybe it was the birth of my son? Maybe it was the thought of every other mother out there. Maybe it was because I kept hearing the scripture about Rachel crying out for her children. Maybe it was realizing that if I’d been born enslaved, someone could have sold my son away from me and not even God in heaven could have kept it from happening. There is no romance in that notion. There is no romance to that world. There is nothing either sweet or nostalgic about a world whose beauty is made on the shredded backs of enslaved people.
As Thor and I were talking yesterday, we talked about statues and what they mean, and where they belong. We talked about how no matter how you slice it, no matter how many excuses or how many #notallsoutherners you throw at it, no matter how many points you can get across about the wrongdoings of the Union, the bottom line is that the Confederacy was fighting to protect an economy that was only possible through slave labor.
I asked him how he would like to work for no wages. Or how he would like to know that his parents could be sold off away from him at any time. Or how he would like to know that he was less valuable than a horse. Because no matter how many other reasons the South might have had to rise up, so long as they were protecting their right to tell a little boy he was a thing not a person, they were wrong. They were wrong.
And we shouldn’t celebrate men for fighting for the right to oppress other men, no matter how they treated their own slaves–and god the bile just rises up when I type that because there shouldn’t have been slaves to begin with, and no one should get a cookie for “freeing” his own.
We shouldn’t celebrate war period. But shame on us for insisting that we honor the politics that meant the deaths of so many brave men and women–because that’s what we’re ultimately doing. We’re celebrating the politics that forced people to choose sides when the right thing being done to begin with would have saved so much blood.
Celebrate and honor your heritage with honesty and with humility, and with the understanding that your story isn’t the only one worth telling. I am Southern. My roots run deep. I am not proud of our part of the mark on history left by slavery. But I am very proud of the individual people who make up my bootstrapping family with the understanding that what made our bootstrapping possible was the fact that we were white.
I know I’m mostly preaching to the choir. It’s just important that the choir knows which pulpit I’m standing in. And if you happen to read this and are offended by it, I suggest you spend some quiet time asking yourself why and playing devil’s advocate with your own discomfort.
When I’m thinking about statues, I’m thinking about my kind-hearted, tender, little boy, and I’m wondering what it would mean to him to have to walk past a memorial honoring a man who was willing to die to protect the idea that my son (had he been born a Black child) was not a full human.
Think about that. Think about what it would mean to you to know that someone was willing to give his life so that you might be enslaved. Think about what it would mean to you to know that we were honoring someone who was willing to DIE so that someone else could own you. Really. Seriously. Think about that. That’s what we do to lovely, decent people all the time.
I’m wondering what it does to the psyches of little boys and girls everywhere, who grow up being told, “You’re equal,” but then have to walk into schools named for men who were willing to die to protect an institution that meant buying and selling them like animals or furniture.
I’m wondering what it does to the hearts of children to look up into the stone faces of men who, if the war had gone differently, were fighting to maintain the right to keep them in chains.
Why are we okay with sending those messages to our children?
And keep in mind that it isn’t just White Southerners who lost the war. Black Southerners lost it, too. What did we do, as a Southern Nation, to help the freed slaves find lives? We were too busy licking our own wounds and trying to survive, and some of us were buying sheets, and starting lynch mobs to do much other than nothing. We cannot, must not forget how we responded to those men, women, and children after the war. Remembering that in some states, like Texas, we didn’t even bother letting the slaves know they’d been emancipated.
Yes, many White people did good and valuable things. Let’s put up some statues of them if we need statues. Let’s put up some statues of abolitionists in the places of generals and failed presidents. If we have to have statues of white people, let’s find some decent ones.
And know that it pains me to trash talk Robert E. Lee because I have a very hard time not hero-worshipping him as a cross between Santa Claus and Jesus. But Santa never laid switches across a man’s back, or fought for his right to do it. And Jesus sure-as-shooting never took up a cross for anyone’s right to treat another man like a mule.
So, I’m going to stick to worshipping the dude who said that the greatest love is characterized by laying down our lives for our neighbors–sometimes the best way to lay down your life is to set aside your false idols and show love through humility.