Heritage or Hate?

As a Southern native, born and raised in the deepest of the deep South in "Lower Alabama," I have spent my life surrounded by the confederate flag and those who will (quite literally) fight to defend everything for which they claim it stands. There are the usual claims of defense: "It's about heritage...it's a sign of Southern pride...it's a symbol of tradition and history..." Regardless of what response you hear, it is almost always preceded or followed with something like "it's not a symbol of hate or racism."

I know this familiar line of defensive rhetoric well. I know it well because I used to recite it myself. I write this with a great deal of shame and embarrassment, but once upon a time I drove a loud, mud-stained pickup with a confederate flag on the front bumper. I used to wear t-shirts with Chevy trucks or hunting dogs in front of the "Southern Cross." I even wore a belt buckle in the shape and colors of that flag. All of those things are gone now. When I became a follower of Christ, I left those things behind; I deemed them part of the "old man" I once was. For me, it was hard to believe that the One who said "love your neighbor as yourself" would be alright with his followers decorating themselves with a symbol that stood for hate and injustice in the eyes and hearts of so many. I got rid of everything that bore that symbol...almost everything.

When I was a junior in high school everyone in my class was excited about one particular day (at least it seems that way in hindsight): the day when the representative from Balfour would come and we could begin that great rite of passage--purchasing your class ring. Now, this may not be a big deal to you, but it was to my family and it was to me at the time. People in my home town still wear their class rings with an odd sort of ceremonial pride, so I was pretty excited about getting my very own.

If you're familiar with the whole class ring thing, then you know you can do just about anything with such a ring: you can get it in silver or gold with nearly any color stone you'd like; you can have your name engraved inside the ring; you can decorate the sides of the ring with words and symbols that reflect your high school experience; and you can even have symbols place under the stone. Mine was pretty "toned down": gold with a blue stone (my high school color), my class logo on one side, the logo for vocational technology on the other (I was the two-term president of VICA, now Skills USA), and under that blue stone I chose a special image available only for the class of 2002--two, crossed, confederate flags.

I remember thinking how cool it was, how "bad-ass" it looked. I wore that ring the rest of my junior year and on through graduation. It wasn't until after I began listening to the words of Jesus that I began hating that ring. It mocked me, reminded me of who I used to be and why I really liked that flag. I still have that ring, though it sits in a small drawer of my wife's jewelry box. I've tried to get rid of it, throw it away or maybe even sell it, but my wife thinks I'd regret it.

I despise what that symbol beneath that blue stone stands for. It pains me to think that there was a time when I was complacent with passive-aggressive hatred in the name of "heritage." I still live in Alabama, and every morning on drive to the office, I pass homes where people proudly fly that symbol recognized by so many as a symbol of oppression, hatred, and injustice. It pains me to think that there are those who still hope that one day "the South will rise again," to think that there are actual talks of secession in 2012 and that such talks will only serve to stir up those who have some misguided understanding of what that means. My hope is that those who wave, wear, salute, display, or revere the flag of the Confederacy will at the very least come to understand that while such a symbol may conjure up feelings of pride and heritage for them, it reminds so many of the atrocities of slavery, segregation, and hatred based in ignorance. My hope is that rather than pledging allegiance to any flag, the people of God will pledge allegiance solely to Christ and his kingdom of love and acceptance.