Aunt Jemima. The Stars and Bars. Statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. More and more of these are now gone with the wind. Since the gruesome murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen these things go. Which makes some Americans sad because they say this is our history. But this makes other Americans glad because they say these are racist totems.
On July 4 we celebrate America. On July 5 we worship God. What does God think about this Confederate symbol controversy? Does God even care? The Bible says that God does 207 times. The Bible contains 207 verses telling us that God hates, decries, condemns, and forbids idols.
What’s an idol? An idol is something that takes you away from God. Pledging allegiance to an idol corrupts and supplants our ultimate loyalty to God. Idols demand unholy offerings from us, and as we dutifully render those to an idol we defile our relationship to God — and we demean ourselves.
Can you imagine going to Ground Zero and seeing a statue of Osama bin Laden? That would be a sacrilege. Then why do we have statues honoring Confederate combatants who also slaughtered Americans?
Can you imagine going to the Bundestag — Germany’s parliament building — and seeing a statue of the Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler or of Adolph Eichmann, the Third Reich’s mastermind of the Holocaust? No. So, why in Washington, D. C. in our national capitol building are there 11 Confederate statues? One is of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who was charged with treason against the United States; who proclaimed: “The Confederacy is founded upon the great truth that the subordination of Negroes to whites is natural and normal.”
Some say that these statues are about heritage. Others say they are about hate. Some say the Civil War was about states’ rights. Others say it was about slavery. Who’s right? Well, let’s go to the source. Louisiana’s secession proclamation in 1860 stated: “The people of the slaveholding south are determined to preserve African slavery.” The Texas declaration of secession claimed: “The servitude of the African race is mutually beneficial to both blacks and whites and is abundantly authorized… by the revealed will of God.” (Texas secessionists apparently hadn’t read their Bibles. In Exodus, God frees slaves, insisting, “Let my people go.”)
Some see the Confederate flag as a symbol of their heritage — not hate, but the man who created the Stars and Bars — William T. Thompson — knew exactly what his flag stood for: “As a People we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white race over the colored race.”
When Strom Thurmond ran for President in 1948, his Dixiecrat Party revived the Confederate flag, which flew at his rallies. The Augusta Courier newspaper observed: “The Confederate flag is coming to mean something to everybody now. It means the southern cause… It is becoming the symbol of the white race and the cause of white people. The Confederate flag means segregation.”
Looking at these obscured historical facts in light of Scripture, God through the prophet Habakkuk interrogates us today, saying: “What use is an idol once its maker has shaped it— a cast image, a teacher of lies (Habakkuk 2:18)!” All of these symbols that are now going away are just that: Teachers of lies. Whites are not superior to blacks. God created everyone in the image of God. We are all part of one family: God’s family. God is love. Christ taught us to love God and love our neighbors — not hate our neighbors. That’s why this current controversy is important to us all: African-Americans and whites; Southerners and Northerners. There is just no denying that symbols matter.
The racial justice advocate Jeffrey Robinson quotes George Orwell, who said: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Translation: Whoever controls the narrative controls how we go forward. If we ignore or excuse the ugly, evil parts of our past, we have no chance of going forward in productive, healing, reconciling ways. Getting rid of these symbols, says Robinson, is a start. It gives us as Americans the opportunity to begin to deal with the truth. If we have the moral courage to do that, we can be free.
Free to work together — with each other and with God — to make things better. To make things right. To form a more perfect union. So that our nation truly is a shining city on a hill, giving light to the world by doing right by every American and thereby doing right by God. Getting rid of idols does that. It clears away falsehood and degradation. Getting right with God and treating each other right unfailingly results in freedom and peace, which rehabilitates us all.
In the Book of Ezekiel, God rails against false gods and those who bow before them. God tears into the idols of all the enemies that threaten Israel. Moab, Edom, Philistia — they all get it. And then God turns to Egypt and says: “I will destroy the idols and put an end to the images in Memphis (30:13).” Thank heavens; our good God is still doing that in Memphis — and Mobile — and Richmond and Charlottesville — on NASCAR tracks and our neighbor’s flag poles — and in our hearts — and throughout this nation which we all love. So we can all follow God by moving ahead together. That possibly is here. Glory, glory, hallelujah: His truth is marching on. Let us join in.