I’m going to be honest with you. I am struggling emotionally with what is happening in Richmond, Virginia. Even though I live in Israel today, Richmond is still my hometown, where I grew up. And the most iconic part of the former capital of the Confederacy is Monument Avenue. It’s beautiful with its historic cobblestone streets. I have memories of going to the Easter Day Parade, when they close off a large portion of the street to car traffic, and it becomes an upscale block party. Locals sit on their porches hosting parties for friends. I’ve jogged up and down every part of the historic Monument Avenue.
And the most iconic part of this iconic street, the thing that makes Monument Avenue, “Monument Avenue” are the monuments. Statues of several Confederate army officers with Virginian heritage line the street, including General Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis and J.E.B Stuart. In truth, I have no great love for these men nor hatred. They are just figures in history. When we studied the Civil War in high school, I always identified with the anti-slave north.[i] (Ironically, the latest monument added is of Arthur Ashe, the black tennis player who died of AIDS after a tainted blood transfusion.)
My father grew up on Monument Avenue. I can’t think of any more beautiful place to take a long walk on a bright autumn afternoon. I spent a good part of my childhood at the Jewish Community Center which is on Monument Avenue.
So, when I see these statues coming down, I’m deeply conflicted. For others, it’s deeper; it’s about their heritage. For me it’s just about my short, personal history—nostalgia.
However, I want to remind everybody about something. Slaveowners in America were mostly Christian and believed that God blessed the institution of slavery. Looking back 150 years, we find it unconscionable that religious people owned slaves. And except for the most deranged among us, no one misses slavery. The question is, will our children look back on the monument statue issue in the same way in 50 years?
Just after slavery was abolished came the Jim Crow laws, to ensure the segregation of white and black people. It would be easy to assume that the people who created these laws and the ones who cheered them on were evil monsters. But they were just normal Americans. I might even imagine that they wondered aloud, “Well, we got rid of slavery, what else do these people want?” That’s a sentiment that we are hearing today. (By the way, the answer to that question is equality.) The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, but did little to end racism.
In 1915 in Oklahoma, blacks and whites could not even use the same phone booth! I’m not sure when they overturned that, but I’m confident that the good people of Oklahoma don’t long for the “good old days.” There was once a time in America when a black person could not drink from the same water fountain as a white person. And that made perfect sense to the average white person at the time. But looking back we can see how racist, demeaning and dehumanizing the practice was.
When whites and blacks had to drink from separate water fountains.
When I was born, black children and white children did not study together in many places. School segregation was overturned in the 50s but was not fully implemented in Virginia until the 70s. Breaking segregation was not easy, and I’m sure many white Christians were against sending their children to school with black kids. But you know what? I don’t know any white people today who want to go back to segregation—something practiced just 50 years ago. In fact, in Richmond, a bunch of white urban missionaries moved into one of the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods to start a school for inner-city, predominantly black children.
There was a time when going on trial before a jury of your peers meant, for a black man, being judged by an all-white jury—and often being unfairly convicted. I’m sure that made perfect sense to all twelve of those white jurers at the time. But looking back we know it was wrong—prejudiced.
My point is this. Thirty years from now, very few people in America are going to be missing the Confederate flag. More than likely the majority of white people in America will wonder why it was so controversial to get rid of it.
If you’re one of the folks still struggling with the idea of getting rid of the Confederate flag and you call yourself a Christian, then can I recommend that you read the words of Paul when he talks about eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8, 10:23-33, Rom. 14). Even though he knows that there is no power in an idol, he understands that eating this meat will cause many pagans who are considering the gospel, or former pagans, who grew up with the practice, to stumble. His conclusion: Do not, by your eating, destroy someone for whom Messiah died. All we need to do is replace eating with flag waving. The principle is the same. Our mandate before God is not to preserve our history, but to take away all unnecessary stumbling blocks.
And 30 years from now very few people will be missing the statues that line Monument Avenue. They may wonder why it took people so long to get rid of them. (And by “get rid of them,” I mean, move them to a museum. History can be preserved without honoring that which many find dishonorable.)
While we have made great strides in overcoming racism in the past 150 years—even to the point of electing a black president—it would be a mistake to assume that there is no more work to do.
This social issue is not like other issues such as abortion or same sex marriage. The Bible doesn’t tell us to take our stand against equality. In fact, it tells us quite the opposite, that we are to stand against injustice.
Now I know it’s a little confusing. You’ve got anarchists. You have the organization Black Lives Matter which is about a lot more than black lives. You’ve got a bunch of white liberals in Seattle taking over part of the city (Ironically they are armed despite being against guns, and they’ve set up borders despite being for open borders). I’m not saying that we accept everything that’s being said. There is a lot to be worked out, and much discernment is needed. And to be clear, I do not think the way to deal with this issue is through anarchy. However, sometimes it takes that (this is not a justification—I find Antifa disgusting) to get people to take an issue seriously. It took a war to to end slavery! Thank God we are not there yet.
I’m just saying that those things that we think we hold dear, that have nothing to do with our commitment to God—when we look back in 30 years we will wonder what took us so long to release them. Culture is good and healthy, but when it is offensive to others, we should be willing to sacrifice it for the sake of our brother.
When we stand before God, He will not ask us how well we preserved our heritage, but but did we do all we could to bring people to Yeshua.
[i] It’s true 75% Of southerners did not own slaves (For many reasons, starting with not being able to afford slaves to not believing in the institution), so it’s safe to say that they were not primarily fighting and risking their lives just over the issue of slavery. But the fact remains slavery was legal in the South and illegal in the North. I’ve had many people tell me over the years that the civil war was not fought over slavery but over states’ rights. But what was the main right they were seeking to preserve? Slavery.
“In the official declaration of the causes of their secession in December 1860, South Carolina’s delegates cited ‘an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery.’ According to them, the Northern interference with the return of fugitive slaves was violating their constitutional obligations; they also complained that some states in New England tolerated abolitionist societies and allowed black men to vote.” —History.com