I moved to SC in the summer of 2006 for seminary for two reasons, a sense of Adventure and the weather.
But what I discovered not long after I got there was that there was a third reason I ended up in SC. God had led me there. God led me to a state full of beautiful places and smiling faces (you just had to read the license plates). God led me to a state where I was warmly received by a congregation that I still hold incredibly close to my heart. God led me to a community at Southern Seminary, one that included Clem Pinckney and many other faithful, wonderful people longing to serve God in public ministry, that I was glad to call my family for years. God led me to a place where faith was still a part of daily life, where football coaches gladly cut kids from practice on Wednesday nights for youth groups, and where people took the Sabbath day seriously—they didn’t even sell beer at grocery stores on Sundays for northerners who needed to watch the Bills’ games. Crazy, I know. God led me to a state with a heritage of hospitality and positivity and devotion. I was glad to call it home.
Most of the time. There were times when the heritage and practice I experienced was sinful. Times where our history of slavery and segregation was being played out in the present. Times where I heard the young people in my youth group talk about people from Latin America. Times where I witnessed parents praise the young man who is black and on the football team while looking with contempt on the young man who is black at the grocery store. Times where the diversity that made up the student body at Southern Seminary would separate on Sunday mornings to perpetuate what MLK, Jr. called the most segregated hour in America more than 60 years ago. Times where the 80 year-old, incredibly faithful woman I’d be talking to in the hospital would casually ask the nurses to make sure they aren’t giving her ‘black blood.’ And in too many of those times, the confederate flag would be waving in the foreground.
So let me try to help.
Just because something isn’t offensive to you, does not mean it isn’t offensive. And just because you can’t see the racial tension, that does not mean it doesn’t exist. And here’s the kicker for people who claim to be Christian: what you think about the confederate flag doesn’t matter as long as the flag offends your neighbor. Contrary to what we have been told, what we THINK is not nearly as important has how other people FEEL.
The Apostle Paul dealt with a different issue about the exact same thing. He was working with the Corinthian church that was split regarding the issue of food sacrificed to idols. On the one hand there were people who felt like food sacrificed to idols was fair game to eat, because, after all, there are no idols. So food sacrificed to something that doesn’t exist is still just food. Bon appétit. But there were others who couldn’t understand that. Who couldn’t understand how any Christian could eat food that was laid on other gods’ altars. Just watching Christians do so gave them great offense.
We know what 21st century Americans would say to this: Those people are perfectly entitled to eat whatever they want. They are not doing anything wrong, and it’s not their problem if people get offended. But do you know what Paul said? Do you know what the Bible says? It says, as long as that food causes your neighbor distress, you should never, ever eat it (1 Corinthians 8:13), because what you think about that food does not matter compared to how it affects your neighbor.
So let me say it again, what we think about the confederate flag, comes second to how the flag makes our neighbor’s feel. And the confederate flag, heritage and expression to you or not, is a symbol of white supremacy, slavery, and segregation to too many of our neighbors. So it’s time to take it down.
And here’s the good news, the South in the end isn’t losing a piece of heritage, it’s making room for the actual heritage it’s always had and that has always mattered more. The heritage that received this northerner years ago, and made me never want to leave. The history of welcome and hospitality. The ability to see the bright side and assume the best. The resiliency to bounce back and never give up. The faithfulness to put God first, and caring for our neighbor next. The reverence and obedience to pay more than lip service to what God commands. And maybe when there’s more room for that heritage to show it too, like the confederate flag, will become more than a Southern thing as well. We can pray.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.