As we are in the midst of a social trend surrounding the removal of Confederate symbols and monuments, the debate is over history, who writes it and who gets to re-write it. How do we make sense of history? How do we remain true to history? And most importantly, in my opinion, how do we benefit from history?
This time is indeed an opportunity, if we proceed faithfully. Yet, what will be the faithful response to these times? I’m reminded of the words of Church Leadership on the issue:
The news that the governmental flag of the Confederacy, not to be confused with the battle flag of the Confederacy, will be removed from the Cathedral grieves me. I sorrow to hear of this anti-history, anti-truth, capitulation.
Let me repeat. What hangs in the Cathedral is NOT the battle flag of the Confederacy. It is the governmental flag. That distinction is important.
If one removes flags because they give negative/hurtful feelings to some, perhaps, the Bishop, Dean and a Chapter should also remove the American flag. It too is a symbol of division and oppression in the minds of some. Not me to be sure – but some.
While the high lift is in the Cathedral the Spanish, French, English and Episcopal Church flags might also be taken down. Each in its own way is a symbol of division and pain.
I illustrate by observing that ruinous litigation, and the theological declension of Episcopal Church, might make some wish that the denominational flag be removed. Not me – but some.
This is to say nothing of those who were, in their time, ground down under the boot of the French, English and Spanish as they ruled Florida. There are those who could hypothetically rise from the grave with stories that would horrify us. They might wish the respective symbol of their ruin be removed.
But, is it really a good idea to revise history and pretend there was no Spanish, French, English or Confederate government that held sway over Florida? I say not. It should embarrass, if not appall, us to do so.
It interests me to read what Charles Krauthhammer, himself as of yet a non-believer, said. I offer his thought for your consideration:
“Had the flag not existed or been on the ground of the capitol this massacre would have happened in any case. But it’s the standard liberal impulse, something happened really bad. So there’s got to be a problem, there has to be a solution, we must do something, even if the something is entirely irrelevant.”
Relevant are the words of Jesus:
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
Brothers and sisters we do not have a flag problem in America or the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke. We have a heart problem.
As our culture moves increasingly from the Eternal One and fewer hearts are changed we will continue to hear of such tragedy – in truth our Lord, and Scripture
These words from 2015, are those of the Very Reverend Richard Lobs III, twelfth Dean (retired) of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke’s in Orlando, FL.
He was responding to the news of the efforts I had made to have a Confederate Flag removed from the Cathedral sanctuary, after being appalled to see it hanging in a sacred space that is to be the Mother Church for ALL Central Florida Episcopalians.
It was the Feast Day of Absalom Jones, the Episcopal Priest who – with Richard Allen (founder of the AME Church) – was forcibly pulled up and removed from a Methodist Church altar while at prayer for having the audacity to violate segregation customs IN THE CHURCH. The Reverend Martini Shaw of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas – the Mother Church of Black Episcopalians, founded by Fr. Absalom, was the preacher here in Orlando – at the Cathedral.
Sitting behind Fr. Martini, while he was preaching at the pulpit, I see the Bloodstained Banner hanging over his shoulder…while preaching on the day to remember Absalom Jones!
It was the first time I had seen it. Being relatively new to the Diocese of Central Florida, I hadn’t been in the Cathedral often. This was the first (and only) time I served as a member of the Altar Party in the Cathedral. So it was the first time I had the “right angle,” enabling me to see that flag in that space. Over the shoulder of the preacher. In the preacher’s upward line of sight, as if reminding the preacher of the High Calling of the Lost Cause.
Certainly, I wasn’t the only person who had seen that flag. But I was the only one who hadn’t learned to tolerate it.
I new I couldn’t speak on it. I had been fired from St. Thomas Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Southeast Florida for not appreciating the Confederate Flag on school grounds. I had been Kaepernicked by Archdeacon Tom Brutell for not agreeing to retroactively resign after having been fired. He blocked at least one congregation from hiring me and told his counterpart in the Diocese of Central Florida, Canon Ernie Bennett (retired), to uphold his ban. I was only hired because a luminary and iconic priest, Fr. Nelson W. Pinder, used his political clout to make Bishop Greg Brewer ignore his Canon’s advice.
I knew that even if I did speak on it, I would be easily ignored. I had only been in the Diocese for two years at that time. There were many Black Episcopalians (many is never a lot in the Episcopal context) who attended the Cathedral and remained quiet. There were a handful (even smaller) of Black clergy who had been here longer than I, without saying a mumbling word.
Using my political skills from my time as a Legislative Correspondent, then Communications Director on Capital Hill, I compelled the Union of Black Episcopalians to address the issue with then Cathedral Dean Anthony Clark.
The Dean reluctantly agreed to take it down. But to his credit, he did take it down. Yet he would not agree to take it down openly and using that moment as a teachable one unto repentance. He took it down when all the flags were to be cleaned and then didn’t put it back. His assurance was that “so long as he is Dean” the flag would not have a place in the Cathedral sanctuary.
At hearing that determination, his predecessor, Dean Lobs, decided to take to the Clergy Listserv to defend the righteousness of the Confederacy. His public message was meant to “educate” and intimidate this young Black priest who didn’t know how things go in Florida.
No one said anything to him. At least not openly…
Here was a Christian Cleric…the Dean of a Cathedral, reconciling the Confederate Flag to Holy Space. Then concludes by saying we don’t have a flag problem…we have a heart problem.
Folk did chime in…to deride me. Others tried their best to help me see the beauty of Confederate Heritage. A White female priest offered this: “…many black men died for this flag. And they find their southern pride in it. I don’t find it racist but I can most certainly see how you might. I don’t wear anything with a confederate flag on it. I don’t own a confederate flag. But when I do see it, I think of Dixie. not the ugly days of slavery but the swanee (sic) River, the cypress trees with hanging moss. And the sweet gentility we used to have in the south.”
Neither my bishop, nor any of his Canons stepped in to say anything. No one in the Power Structure cared to know how I felt. No one stood up to defend the Beloved Community from bigotry.
So, it fell to me – the one attacked by older and more powerful clergy, to “set the record straight.”
…Yet to correct some of the omissions of this post: the flag hanging in the Cathedral is the “Blood-Stained Banner.” It was the third of the Confederate Flags adopted March 4, 1865, a month before the Union defeated the Confederacy and sent treason underground. “The red vertical bar was proposed by Major Arthur L. Rogers, who argued that the pure white field of the Second National flag could be mistaken as a flag of truce: when hanging limp in no wind, the flag’s Southern Cross canton could accidentally stay hidden, so the flag could mistakenly appear all white.” Because of the timing of this particular flag’s design “it is unlikely that the third national flag ever flew over any Confederate troops or civilian agencies.” In other words, as the Civil War was drawing to a close and the South saw the battle lost, they designed a flag that would forever carry the sentiment that “the South will rise again!”
So, you’re right: it’s not a battle flag of the Confederacy. It’s far worse!
And this is the flag hanging in the Cathedral!
Charles Krauthhammer is also right: had the flag not been there such racial terrorism would still have occurred. Why? Because Confederate culture glorifies racial terror. The flag is only a rallying point.
You too are right: we have a heart problem. And this heart problem is emphasized by such defense of the flag and unloving response to the pain and trauma of Blacks who are Christian and supposed to be your brothers and sisters with whom you should weep and mourn when they mourn.
So frankly: I don’t know whose heart you’re suggesting to double down on the task of changing…unless you mean that you will work harder to help us poor Blacks accept one of the signs of our oppression. I shudder to think that’s what you mean.
Spike Lee told us to “Do the Right Thing” 25 years ago. I wait to see whose “right thing” the Bishop and the Dean will uphold…whether they will hold to division (especially one that is particular to us – racism and national treason) or seek to remove that which divides: “That we all may be one.”
But Western Christianity is not about oneness with humanity. It is about oneness with Whiteness…
To maintain the image and purity of Whiteness…
To keep Whiteness holy and sacred, and the aspiration of all others. Cleanliness is close to godliness. And cleanliness is white in our minds…
Reconciling Treason to Righteousness…
Treason against the United States of America. Treason against the Kingdom of God.
Reconciling what is unholy to That Which Is Holy…
Reconciling the tearing apart of the Union with the forging of A More Perfect Union.
Holding on to sin and convincing yourselves that this sin is akin to salvation.
And the Church has freely chosen to root its existence in maintaining Whiteness “holy” in America, with White Supremacy as our salvation.
How else can we have ONE Episcopal Church where some believe in the righteousness of the Lost Cause, so believe that Cause is evil and a crime against humanity, while most keep their heads down and believe whatever is trendy?
This was how the Confederate Flag came out from the Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida: in a way where the priest who is Black and raised the issue is seen as a problem. As the former Canon to the Ordinary, Tim Nuñez, later told me: “You are too polarizing.”
This is how the Confederate Flag and monuments are coming down from many public spaces: in ways where those who were meant to be terrorized by those symbols are now being assaulted for not being “ok” with the symbols of hate towering over them.
We see that in President Trump’s tweet shaming Bubba Wallace for NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate Flag from its events…
Those who speak up are deemed “too polarizing” by a White society too fragile to admit its brokenness so that it might receive God’s healing.
Many people will celebrate the “big tent” of Anglicanism and Episcopalianism. “The Episcopal Church Welcomes you.” Yet all I see is the literal reconciliation between treason and righteousness. The holding together of those who are boldly at odds with seeing the oneness of humanity as like unto the Oneness of the Triune God to those who are timidly supportive of the (conditional) equality of all people, so long as they don’t threaten the established order of things.
And we reconcile treason to righteousness with such beautiful language! Language that compels many to hold onto the very thing that is killing them. #WhitePower
There’s a video going viral of a White woman in Tennessee taunting some Black folk with “White Lives Matter.”
If you haven’t seen it, take a look: http://jahbrd.me/WLM
And this is why reconciling treason with righteousness is so dangers to the mattering of White Lives. #WhiteLivesMatter.
They really and sincerely do…
Because if the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true (and I believe it is), there is NO WAY God allows Whiteness into the Kingdom of God with such treasonous behavior.
The Church may have found a way to reconcile the Confederacy and Confederate Pride to Christian Living in order to appease White Fragility. Yet, treason will not be reconciled to the Kingdom of God. And the treasonous heart shall not enter the Beloved Community.
Treason is a far to simple word for betraying the King of kings and Lord of lords. Yet, human words must suffice to help the human understand the audacity of the way we walk as a Society…as humanity. And the Church has allowed us to walk this way, and talk this way, in order to hold onto its power over We the People and maintain its relationship to the State.
The Church has granted sanctuary to real spiritual and mortal treason, as a means to keep the pews full. The Church is now “expelling” the mere symbols of treason, but only as a means to keep the pews full. Yet while it is trendy to be anti-Confederate symbols for now, it will take more than removal of the physical symbols of a heartical treason – yes HEART-ical, to heal the sin sick soul of America.
And this heart problem is deeper than White folk understanding that #BlackLivesMatter. It’s more personal than that. White people need to understand this essential point:
And if Whiteness is to be saved, then the Church should want to tend to the heart that holds on to treason…encouraging that heart to let go of treason and embrace a more perfect Union in the Spirit. Rather than intimidating non-White members of the Body of Christ to bow down to White Power or face exile from the Body, the Church ought welcome those who love White people enough to intentionally trigger their White Fragility that they might transcend it…that Whiteness might no longer fear being broken by confronting the horrors of White violence and apathy toward Life.
There is a better vision for America, White People. A better way toward Becoming Beloved Community and forging A More Perfect Union. But you have to embrace it: http://jahbrd.me/whiteamerica