“To the natural eye, they are big and beautiful monuments that bear inscriptions of honor for those Americans who sacrificed their lives, in both the War for Independence and the Civil War. But, what most have failed to realize is that these man-made altars were really erected to commemorate the political revolution of 1898, which was only successful because it exalted one race while trampling upon another.” — Michael Thornton in Fire in the Carolinas: The Revival Legacy of G.B. Cashwell and A.B. Crumpler
“How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.” — 1 Corinthians 15:36-37
If you are a North Carolina native, you probably don’t even notice the big, statues “To our Confederate Dead” that are erected all over small towns and big governmental lawns all over our state. They are obelisks and statues of brave-looking men in uniform. It wasn’t until this past year that they began to make the news, when “Silent Sam” was forcibly removed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It wasn’t long after that when their neighbor Duke University decided to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the steps of its pristine landmark Duke Chapel. Many of my friends and members of my Church were outraged.
One thing that I have since learned, not only from reading the Fire in the Carolinas quote above, is that these statues were erected around the time White Supremacy made its comeback, squashing the fusion politics that grouped together people from across the color line, creating Jim Crowism. The Civil War did not really end until the 1960s. The history is of the Civil War is not only confined to our past, and it’s not really even past. We see the rift between black and white communities in a similar way to the rift between white and latinx*** communities. Knowing our history helps us find ways of living faithfully into our future.
The resurgence of White Supremacy in 1898 not only destroyed the fusion politics of the Populist and Republican parties; it greatly damaged the worship fusion that the Holy Spirit was doing. What we may not realize is that along with the multiracial political endeavor was a multiracial religious endeavor, situated within the Holiness Movement, that brought together people from across the color line. When the fusion politics were suppressed, so were these churches.
I will never advocate for the destruction of the White Southern Culture, but I do believe that over 100 years ago, the Holy Spirit began a work within this Culture that allowed the racist parts of it to begin to die, so that it could embrace a radical equality with Southern African-Americans. Today, the same movement is happening, but I am afraid that one of the greatest barriers is the fear of annihilation. Southern Whites are afraid of the destruction of their Culture, in favor of embracing immigrants, in the same way that the fear of the other caused them to break the reconciliation with former enslaved people, beginning in 1898. I would not advocate for the wholesale destruction of Southern Culture anymore than I would advocate for the wholesale destruction of American Culture, which has been responsible for countless lives lost through child labor and exploitation, through corporations, in developing countries.
I believe that our first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, which reminds us that there is no longer male nor female, white nor black, American nor foreigner, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus. It is okay for us to be part of other, larger groups, as long as these do not become idols and false gods. When we sow the seeds of our faith, our expectations die, and what God will have our work to be comes forth, often in a way we could not have expected. We have sown the seed of our culture and expectations, and if God is in our work, it will grow out of the dust, something different than we sowed. I pray that the cultures in which we exist will remain, with the ungodly parts dying away and with godliness from our presence growing. I pray that the ultimate group in which we live, the Kingdom of God, would come on earth as it is in Heaven.
Consider: What is one piece of culture, of a group I’m in, that promotes something ungodly, that must die? What is one piece of culture, of a group I’m in, that should live and grow?
Pray: Dear Lord, who came into the first century, Jewish culture, by being conceived out of wedlock and born to a poor peasant girl in the oppressed country of Palestine. You always show up in distinct ways. It is truly a scandal how you show up. Help us to remember that, because you were part of a distinct culture, you allow us to be part of our own groups. Help us also to remember, that you challenged the religious groups you were in, more than any other groups. Help us to live in our cultural groups, but in a way that sanctifies and makes them more loving and Christlike. Help us first to be sanctified and Christlike. Amen.
***”Latinx” as a term is broader than “Hispanic,” because it includes non-Spanish speakers, and it is broader than “Latino,” because it includes other pronouns than just male. That is why this term has been adopted in popular culture.