I don't think I have ever seen so many images of the Confederate flag paraded before my very eyes before and I grew up here. By "here" I mean in the American South. South with a capital "S." I grew up around plenty of people who were really proud of the South. Of their Southern heritage. Even my mother grew suspicious of anyone without a southern accent and referred to them as "Yankees."
My mother married one of those Yankees, ensuring that I have ancestors who fought on both sides in what I always knew as the Civil War or the War Between the States (though some people I know still refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression). My father was from Massachusetts and preferred Clam Chowder to fried chicken and Welsh Rabbit to blackeyed peas, so our household was tempered a bit, I suppose, when it came to just how truly southern in culture we were.
I married a Missouri man (my mother even called him a Yankee) and while we spent our first year of marriage in Atlanta, we lived in Philadelphia for 3 years before settling for good in North Carolina. So, other than those 3 Philadelphia years, I have spent all of my life here in the South.
I know a lot of people that are pro-South. I mean...rah...rah...let's go. Let's fight the Civil War all over again. These people usually talk up the ideals of State's Rights and the heroism of Stonewall Jackson and such. They usually know a whole lot more history than I do. I would never begin to get into a debate with them on such things. So for years, I just avoided the who "Southern Heritage" shootin' match and politely bowed out of those conversations.
Then a few years ago, the issue of "Heritage Not Hate," a popular bumper sticker displaying the Confederate flag, was brought home, quite literally.
My teenage daughter, all in to horses and trucks and sweet tea and all things "country," asked me what I thought about her wearing a pair of Confederate flag earrings a friend had given her. Wow! I didn't see that one coming.
Now, we live in Western North Carolina. The population of our county is only 6% African-American, and it is even lower in surrounding counties. And even though she had lived the first 9 years of her life with African-American next door neighbors, my daughter had rather limited experience with racial issues. To her reasoning, and what she heard from her friends, this flag was all about being southern. It was about heritage.
There was no sense arguing on that standpoint. Not with her. Not with my Civil War scholar friends. But this is how I see it and this is what I told her and this is what I am still telling people when the topic comes up:
Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. Even if the flag means something perfectly innocent and good to you, it does not mean that to other people. To a lot of other people, one look at that flag brings back a wave of horror for all the atrocities visited on an entire race of people strictly because of the color of their skin. To clamor to have a right to wave whatever flag you jolly well please is looking out first for your own interest, not the other person's.
Christians are called to lay down their life and take up their cross. Sometimes that means letting go of something we may hold dear because that something is hurting somebody else.
I am all for it. I am all for taking down the flag. It won't do anything to make right all the wrongs. But neither will it continue to offend and break hearts.
Let's do the loving thing. It is time to love our neighbor.