The most recent chapter in the story of America’s relationship with its Confederate past began in church.
Since Dylann Roof, a rebel flag-waving white supremacist, opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston two years ago, the debate over historical markers of the Civil War South has taken on more urgency and more widespread concern.
The flags came down first, starting with the contentious one that flew on South Carolina’s capitol grounds. A year after the Mother Emanuel massacre, the Southern Baptist Convention called on Christians to stop displaying the Confederate flag. The Episcopal Church made a similar statement, and its National Cathedral in Washington, DC, opted to remove two images of the flag in its stained glass windows.
Communities and institutions shifted their discussions around their own landmarks, namesakes, and long-ago history; most notably, New Orleans spent two years eliminating its Civil War monuments, the last of which—a statue of General Robert E. Lee—came down last month. Protestors with torches challenged plans to do the same in Charlottesville, Virginia. But despite the new pressure around Confederate history, these cases remain the exception.
“Few public Confederate monuments have been changed, moved, or razed since 2015,” USA Today reported, estimating 700 to 1,000 such monuments remain across 31 states. “While flags can be lowered, songs censored, mascots switched, and schools renamed, monuments are the most tangible and least mutable memorial symbols.”
But just two blocks up the road, the city’s First Presbyterian Church—now a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation—continues to meet and worship in the building that hosted the first gathering of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America.
The debate over such markers inevitably involves the church buildings that housed—and the many more that later memorialized—the history of the Confederate States of America. The most striking example may be St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, nicknamed the Cathedral of the Confederacy.
Over the past two years, the historic church, where Jefferson Davis learned that the war was coming to an end, decided to remove plaques honoring Lee and Davis and place them in an exhibit. Gone are the kneelers with the Confederate flag in needlepoint. The church will retire its coat of arms. Leaders are now discussing how to move forward with presenting a history that acknowledges racism and slavery in its past.
“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to turn the tide against racism. Why did it take the murder of nine black people in a Bible study for some people to finally reject the racism associated with the Confederate emblem? Why do people have to literally be killed before we confront racial prejudice?” asked Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network. “Christian leaders should be able to challenge racism in the midst of the church without waiting for a public disaster as an entry point to conversation.”
Confederate ties are not restricted to a single locale or tradition. The major US denominations divided to coincide with secession, defending the aims of their new government.
Click here to read the rest of the article and Dr. Robertson’s comments.
SOURCE: Christianity Today – Kate Shellnutt