I know my title sets me apart from a lot of Christian voices who have spent tons of time over the last few months calling for racial reconciliation and interracial conversation over the multiple shootings involving African Americans.
This thought struck me over the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag hoisted above the state capitol building in Charleston, S.C., the location of the most recent tragedy. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have blown up over the last few days with lots of articles, quotes, opinions, pictures, etc. It reached its height yesterday with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other leaders calling for it to be lowered. Confederate flags are becoming an endangered species here in America.
With everything that happened with the shooting in South Carolina, it has become a symbol of the racism all across America. And now that Wal-Mart, Amazon and a number of other retailers are removing them from their stores, there’s a shortage of that symbol available for purchase.
Even if every Confederate flag is burned/incinerated/thrown away/never seen again, it won’t change a thing. It may be a symbol of the “old South,” but, unlike the swastika of Nazi Germany, it has rarely been used, to my knowledge at least, as a symbol of racism. I could be wrong. I’m more than happy to be wrong if I am wrong. But…
Taking away the Confederate flag is akin to removing provocative billboards with scantily-dressed women on highways. If you take out the billboards, that won’t kill the lust in people’s hearts. It will simply take away a reminder. And while those things can be helpful, they won’t solve the issue. Honestly, in my opinion, it’s not even a step in the right direction.
Thinking politically/socially for a second: any kind of removal of a cultural symbol is a difficult thing to completely justify. Imagine if the government wanted to remove crosses because it offended people. There would be a serious uproar. Imagine if the government wanted to remove gay pride flags because it offended people. There would be a serious uproar. This is one of those classic cases of you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Honestly, in my opinion, I’d be OK with the flag being taken down. Personally, I wonder why it’s not the South Carolina state flag or United States flag flying over their Capitol building anyways.
So what’s the solution to the flag problem? Do you take it down or do you leave it? I don’t know the answer to that. But that’s not what this is about.
This is about the sanctifying work of Christ that heals human hearts. This is about the Holy Spirit cleansing a man from the inside out. Racism will never be killed on this side of heaven. Dylann Roof’s primary heart sin may have been racism. But we all have our own racism. Maybe it’s lust. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s greed. Maybe it’s (insert sin here). We can get rid of things on the outside to try to help us kill the things on the inside, but it won’t be the silver bullet.
The silver bullet comes at the end of all days.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5, ESV)
We can do all the work we can this side of heaven to kill racism, but the work must be focused in the human heart. I’m not saying we should ignore people’s complaints and concerns. We should listen to the under-represented and under-heard. Good gracious, we should listen to them and do whatever we can to comfort them and show them the love of Christ.
But taking down flags, passing laws and even removing words from the vocabulary will not change the human heart. Only by meeting Jesus can individual hearts be changed. Only by the world meeting Jesus can racism be killed. That comes at the end. That comes when Jesus returns and sin is put away forever.
I can’t wait for that day.
But until then, let’s have the conversation, let’s engage the community, let’s be a part of society. Not just our personal society, but all of society.
Remember: the only step in the right direction is a step towards the cross, a step towards surrender to the Gospel, to the Christ behind the Gospel.