A Kingdom Solution to a Cultural Issue
In the mid 1990s I co-hosted a television program called The Gospel in Black & White that aired in the heart of North Carolina, where I am originally from. Garland Hunt, the other host, was the founding pastor of Raleigh International Church. We were working together on building bridges between the races in our region.
First, a little history... I grew up a "whistling Dixie" southern white boy raised in the heart of the confederacy.
I lived in Harnett County, North Carolina, just down the road from the home of the national leader of the Ku Klux Klan. There was a roadside billboard near my house with a huge picture of a man covered in a white sheet with eyeholes. He was wearing a white coned hat and riding a white horse raised up on its hind legs with big bold letters declaring, "THIS IS KKK COUNTRY!"
When I was young our bus full of peewee football players was driving down a back road one night on the way to a game. We had to slow down for a roadblock where the KKK was holding a rally in an open field. They were burning a huge cross in order to motivate the inspiration of the Klan, and to intimidate the race of color.
There was one small black boy on our team. As the bus stopped with local Klansmen looking in the windows, we quickly pushed the boy under the seat and covered him with our legs. I've never seen anyone as scared as that little guy that night. Most of the pickup trucks parked around that field had confederate flags draped over the rear windows of the cabs.
As I grew up, I found a strong motivation and call to tear down racial walls.
* I was responsible for inviting and historically bringing the first black person to our all-white Baptist church. No one spoke to him.
* When our high school finally integrated, fights broke out regularly. I ran for president of the student body on the platform of equality. My campaign poster was a white hand gripping a black hand. I lost a few friends but won the election.
* Later, as an adult, I moved back to North Carolina to pastor a small church in the town where I lived as a newborn. The KKK had scheduled a parade down Main Street. I organized a seven day prayer walk around the town leading up to the day of their parade. And for some "strange unknown reason," they called and cancelled the parade the night before. The next day our church service mysteriously gained several new couples from the black community. None knew of our prayer walk. It was the power of prayer.
* A few years later I sat down with the principal of a large, well-known all-white private Christian school, built in the '60s to avoid public racial integration. I challenged him to invite a black pastor to be the first African American to ever speak in chapel to the students and faculty. They opened the door to Pastor Garland Hunt who had the students standing on their feet and shouting, "I love black people, I love black people," at the top of their lungs!
The Gospel in Black And White TV program was a first of its kind. The format of the program was that we would address a current racial issue hot in the news for the first third of the program. Then we would open our Bibles and ask the question, "What does the Bible say about this?" We presented a Kingdom of God view of how to address these issues in our culture. The answers were not democratic, nor republican. It was never political. We simply looked at the problems of our world through Kingdom eyes.
One day the issue of the confederate flag being flown at the South Carolina Capitol became news again. So I opened the Bible to our Southern public region, turned to Romans, chapter 14, and shared the principle of how to avoid offending your brother. The issue in Paul's day was eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. In New Covenant Christianity you were free to eat. But out of respect for people whose consciences were bothered by this, he told them to refrain from offending them, and not to eat idol food in their presence. Romans 14:19 says, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another."
Paul's prescribed wisdom in Romans is a perfect principle for the confederate flag issue. This is a free country. You can own a confederate flag. You have the right to display it. You have the right to appreciate and teach your children a broader historical value of what it may have once represented to many people. You may express your opinion that it has little to do with racial issues. Even I understand the importance of states’ rights, for which most southerners were fighting in the civil war. The problem was... those rights at the time included slavery.
And in my lifetime, I’ve seen that flag become a symbol of racial hatred, bigotry, and segregation. It is the flag of choice of radical white extremists. It now symbolizes the degradation of human dignity and is an offense to millions of people. It is not our national flag. It is not a state flag. There is nothing moral or sacred about it. It has become a stumbling block.
The flag was removed in 2000 from the top of the State Capitol to a memorial in front of the Statehouse steps, flying 30 feet high. Its presence is still felt strongly and has remained a source of contention. As this blog is being posted, the S.C. state senate has voted to remove the flag. The state house will now debate.
In my opinion, the Kingdom approach to this problem would take about ten minutes to solve. Remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds.
And to my southern culture I would encourage a little humility. Let's take down the flag, and put it in a museum to remind us of one of our darkest moments in history. But in order to demonstrate a desire to move forward in unity with people of a different race, let's take down the flag! This does not have to be a political issue. This does not have to be about political correctness. I, for one, am a believer in stronger states’ rights. But to me this is a no-brainer.
However, there are those who will never agree. Following the Gospel in Black and White program, I received serious hate mail and threats.
Lord, teach us to humble ourselves, wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, and serve them with respect and honor. This is the way of Christ. This is the way of the cross. This is Kingdom culture solving world issues. This is the demonstration of Christ-likeness on the earth.
Photo credit: Laurent Ternaux, Creative Commons