Born and raised mostly in Georgia, I am proud of my Southern roots. We come from a long line of men and women who hold ourselves to high standards, take responsibility for our actions and don’t put much trust in bureaucracy like government. For southernors, whose demographics are dominated by peoples disenfranchised by the tyrannies of Europe, distrust of government is a source of pride. We don’t need kings and queens to give us our lives or our liberty.
We are each a monarch to ourselves.
That heart for liberty permeates the South. And yet, that same love of liberty was long held in hypocrisy by a culture dependent on the slavery of other men. While state sovereignty against Federal overreach remains an issue pertinent to the causes of the Civil War, our “peculiar institution” dominated Southern motivations.
We were spoiled on the riches of slavery. Further, we had become what we most hated from those European roots — we had become monarchs of other men, and would not offer them the same liberty we held, ourselves.
That is our Southern history. Though, unlike the louder arguments decried from our media, it is still multifaceted, as many non-slaveholding, non-racist white and black men still fought and died for the Confederacy. Even abolitionist and northern Lysander Spooner wrote his belief that a Federal power grab dominated the northern motivations in going to war.
Somewhere in all the history books and commentaries, there is a little bit of truth to everything. As history is often written by the victors, I doubt we’ll ever know the complete story. It’s also time to recognize that what both sides know is skewed by modern politics and poor histories. It’s okay to say you support liberty. It’s okay to say you supported the CSU’s claim for state’s rights. What we cannot say, however, is that slavery was a minor part of the war. Our “peculiar institution,” regardless of the North’s ambitions for power or the South’s rights to secede, had to die.
It would be wise for all Americans to rejoice that formal chattel slavery ended. It was a great first step toward true emancipation, though debt slavery kept black Americans in further bondage for nearly 50 more years. Black Americans probably owe more thanks to the likes of John Deere than Abraham Lincoln for ending sharecropping and debt slavery. It was the invention of the tractor, not the Civil War, that truly freed black America.
Which brings us back to the war and to the statues commemorating it.
One of the great travesties of Southern culture is how hypocritical we are when we espouse support for the Confederacy. We praise an entire government formed entirely around the preservation of “the liberty to own slaves.” Can two systems ever be more diametrically opposed?
For those who claim Christianity (being evil) supports slavery, and that Southerners merely were exercising their religion-backed rights to own other men, I would contend that cherry picking scriptures is no more acceptable now than it was then. Scholars of scripture who avoid cherry picking could easily point out that God promised to bring freedom to every man. Where there spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. He came to free us from bondage — internal and external.
And yet historic Southerners skewed His Word to keep their fellow man in chains.
As a Southerner, I cannot deny the sins of my ancestors. I will not, however, take responsibility for them, either. I am an individual who must make my own decisions how to treat every person I meet. Who I am today, while rooted in Southern culture, is my responsibility. I can pick and choose what I’m proud about in my history, just like any Russian, Chinese, Japanese, British, Brazilian, South African or Saudi Arabian can do. None of us come from perfect nations. Instead, we must choose first to be individuals and make our own decisions.
As a believer, I have a choice — Jesus or Jesup.
There are those who point to Old Testament scriptures which, on the surface, seem to support slavery. Exodus 21 clearly defines rules about owning slaves, many of which set a precedent for treating slaves well. It’s important to recognize that slavery would not be quickly torn down in an age where it was common around the world. The OT starts by addressing the world as it was and calling for slave owners to do good by their slaves, none of whom could be owned more than six years unless the slave requested permanency.
Further, we should not only recognize how the OT might have been good for slaves at the time, but how everything changed with the life of Jesus. All OT scriptures should be seen through the lens of the Christ, who said our greatest commandments were to love the Lord God above all else, and next to love our neighbor as ourself.
Jesus changed everything. Where the OT became a clear example of how human religion-by-merit fails, Jesus Christ and his New Testament call us to something more radical. He called us to direct relationship with God, and to submit willingly to him in order to find the freedom of a Creator living in communion with the created. He calls us to recognize that our responsibility to God’s kingdom supersedes our responsibility to any nationstate or culture. He wants us to live our lives as “Little Christs,” who offer grace to those who do not deserve it, to love the unlovable, help the unhelpable, and to make ourselves living sacrifices as He made Himself for us.
The question is: why are we still clinging to the cultures of this world that neither bring glory to God nor actively contribute today to you exercising Jesus’ commands to love your neighbor?
Upon what rock, then, do we stand in defense of Confederate generals and their statues? Yes, history is important, and we do not want to forget the good lessons learned from the Civil War. But what love are we showing by fighting for that preservation? And how does that fight support spreading the love of Christ to a world desperate for it?
Love is more important than Southern history. If loving black America requires the tearing down of Confederate statues, then tear them down. If offering disenfranchised groups the peace of walking down the street without visual reminders of our nation’s sin of slavery, then take them down.
As Southerners, we’ve done a disservice by fighting for the sordid history of the CSU, instead of reinvesting our heart for liberty in modern times — for white and black alike — in our state and local governments. Instead of saying: “We were wrong to hold slaves. It’s time to redouble our dedication to liberty and the betterment of all men,” we fight for causes we should never have embraced, in the first place.
The question is, are you prepared to let go of your Southern heritage and build a new, liberty-centric life of love and faith? What is more important to you — Jesus and his life-giving message of freedom, or the Confederate States of America? While there was some good to our Southern stand for state sovereignty, it pales in comparison to the complete good in the message of our Savior, who died for all peoples.
I challenge any Southern believer to choose Jesus. He came to free you from your past, so let the past go in exchange for the peace and freedom he came to give to and through you.