I spoke to a friend the other day who had just returned from a trip to Ireland, and he was enthusiastic about his experience. Like me, he is a lover of history, and he went and on about the historic sites he saw. He was effusive about the castles, museums, and tours he went on that featured the struggles of ancient Ireland, the invasion of the Emerald Isle by the English, and the Crown policy of “plantation”, by which English and Scottish Protestant settlers displaced the Irish Catholic landowners. That hostility and animosity is still a part of Ireland’s national character today.
So, now I am forced to take a look at my own countrymen who seem unable to see the value in our history — both the good and the bad — and I wonder if we truly know who we are, and are we interested in being proud of who we’ve become. I don’t usually like to engage in current political discussions on this blog, but I am deeply conflicted when I see our younger generations calling for the removal of our Confederate memorials and statues. It is not because I am a racist, or I condone slavery — that would be a ludicrous accusation. I simply do not understand how they think that destroying our memorials will 1) erase our history, 2) insure that it will never be repeated, or 3) change current attitudes, opinions or hostilities. When they look upon these historical statues, do they really feel the memorials speak for continuing racist policies?
In fact, I believe it is important to understand that our past does not have to have an influence on our present behavior. When we can recognize our sin, repent for it, and receive forgiveness, we can look at the past without any fear of repeating it. And we don’t need to destroy the cultural memory of those sins as a safeguard against backsliding. That doesn’t mean we ignore the ugliness of our past history. It just means we don’t have to hang on to it and let it continue to reinfect us. It is important that we recognize we have evolved into a new identity… we must not forget where we came from, but instead, rejoice in who we’ve become.
Do those who wish to destroy every shred of evidence of the dark days of slavery in our historical memory somehow think that it changes our history? Out of sight, out of reality, if you will? If at the end of that awful war — which resulted in 620,000 deaths; nearly half of the 1.26 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars — reconciliation could take place and Christ-like forgiveness offered between our countrymen, why is there so much hate and vitriol today over the past?
Why can we not look upon the aftermath of the Civil War and see that we, as a nation, did not suffer decades of guerrilla wars as some nations have endured after their own civil wars? Why can we not see that the nation moved forward, despite ongoing racial struggles, and we have much to be proud of? It has been a long and difficult struggle, but there has been progress. Is there still racial prejudice and dark souls among men? Yes, and there always will be until Jesus comes back and removes the instigator of such evil.
But just because a statue of Robert E. Lee exists somewhere on a town square, it does not mean we are at the same place in our national character as we were 156 years ago. That statue honors a man torn by a national debate that nearly destroyed our nation, yet he could say at the end of the Civil War, “I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South its dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and I have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.” Did he own slaves? Disturbingly, the answer is yes. And there is no amount of rationalization that can justify that fact. There are many men throughout the world from that time who will have to stand before the Lord on Judgment Day and account for that sin.
And removing his statue will not erase the dark shadow that hung over this nation for four long and bloody years. Only the blood of Jesus can do that. And I pray that the same evil influence that whispered hate and enmity in the ears of our ancestors, will not find minds willing to embark on another civil war. I guess we will find out… more statues and memorials are coming down by the day. The question to be answered is this … when the last statue comes down, the last street name is changed, and the last reminder of the injustice perpetrated against our fellow man is totally eradicated from our cultural conscience and memory, will we all then be able to live in harmony and peace?
Will the absence of stone and iron memorials change the hearts of those who are intent on hate? Will we at last, as a nation, be free of the temptations of the Enemy and love our neighbor as ourself? I contend that it will be the renewing our minds [to be like Christ] that will ultimately eliminate the poison that is spreading through our national discourse. Perhaps then we can begin to listen to each other and live in true harmony.
I wish it was as easy as pulling down a monument. I denounce our national sin of slavery, and any attempt to limit a man from becoming all that God intended him to be … just as I decry our current national dialogue that seems intent on destroying our unity. We don’t have to let our past failures continue to divide us. Let us look towards building new memorials and testaments to a unified future. There is a bigger picture here… looking at all that God has delivered us from and looking forward to all He wants to do in this amazing nation! Let it begin today!
Colossians 3:12-14 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”.