Now, I don’t fault anyone for being concerned over the presence of confederate statues. I personally think they would be better off in a museum. But Paul’s gestures make me realize that in the grand scheme of all things concerning Christ’s kingdom, whether a statue remains or goes is far less significant than if hearts and minds are turned to Christ, than if brothers and sisters in Christ turn towards one another in love to reflect his kingdom, than if Christ is honored and glorified above all.
So it happened today. As I was driving home from work this evening, I heard on the news station that the demolition crew had finally been given the green light to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee at at a park here in Dallas. But of course this has been at the forefront of news these days. While there has been a small movement to remove Confederate statues from public places for several years, until recently, it has largely gone under the radar. However, the unfortunate advent of Charlottesville has heightened the demand to remove this stain of American history. Across the country, city council meetings, town forums and petitions are forwarding this push so that no public place would be honored by the cause of the confederacy, which by and large is focused on chattel slavery.
I have been chewing on this on this issue a bit especially in light of the seemingly sudden attention this it has received. What am I to think? The answer might seem obvious. But please indulge me as I do a bit of reflection.
My gut reaction is to join the chorus of removal demands. After all, it would seem to make sense considering my ancestors were counted among those who were brought in chains and defended as a southern way of life. I can appreciate the sentiment that these statues represent a stain on the history of this country and memorializes a wretched disposition that endorsed enslavement of a segment of society. I do sympathize with expressions that says we must not endorse any kind of memorialization to the subjugation of a segment of society for no other reason than it was deemed acceptable to do so.
However, I find it interesting that these statues have been up for decades yet now they represent an impediment to progress. It doesn’t take much research to know that the vast majority of these statues were erected during the Jim Crow era with the implicit communication to non-white citizens to know their place. Yet, in spite of the proliferation of these statues, people of African descent pushed through the mood and discriminatory practices so entrenched in the fabric of society to forge through the barriers. I could be mistaken but I don’t recall any writings advocating for the equity of black people that put so much attention on statues as what exists today. Rather, the push for civil rights focused on laws, cultural practices, and societal attitudes that sought to impede progress. This is what people were actually concerned about.
This reality makes me realize that the significance of actual thriving and the affirmation of the dignity of all people made in the image of God is what truly matters. I can appreciate the argument that says removal of Confederate monuments communicates that American society will not tolerate this continued endorsement of white supremacy, as is the cries of many. To be honest, I am much more concerned about actual impediments to progress. I’m sorry but I have a hard time understanding how statues of dead white men whose defeat was secured over 150 years suddenly has become a barrier to progress. I also think we should be careful to ascribe a monolithic concern that these statues are somehow injurious to every black psyche.
Yet, I’m also struck by the resistance for their removal. In fact, this is exactly what prompted the events at Charlottesville. Pretty much every effort that has prompted a call for removal has met with an equal but opposite reaction for their preservation. It’s like the confederate 3rd law of physics! Here in Dallas, the statue’s removal was actually granted last week but a restraining order prevented it’s immediate demise. A lot of folks aren’t happy about the removal of monuments and putting forth effort to see it doesn’t happen.