By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
It’s time to take down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol.
As a South Carolina native and born and bred Southerner, I never thought I would ever say those words, much less put them into print.
The issue of taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina did not happen overnight. It has been “on the table” for years, but what happened last week brought it to the forefront again.
In my heart I know that flag had nothing to do with the evil carried out by Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist who murdered nine Christians at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.
Roof was a tool and pawn of Satan. What happened at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was Satan’s handiwork.
From afar, I have said to family and friends in years past that we don’t need to take the Confederate flag down. It’s part of the state’s history.
Rest assured, I have never approved of slavery. To my knowledge, our family never owned slaves. I have never flown a Confederate flag or ever plan to.
But I have always viewed the Confederate flag as a part of my heritage as Southerner. I never viewed it as a symbol of hate and I still don’t, although I realize many people do, especially today.
Slavery was in existence long before the Civil War and the Confederate flag. Slavery can never be condoned.
It’s time, however, to take the flag down in South Carolina because so many people have stereotyped it with Southerners and prejudice and hatred.
We tend to point fingers at the South when tragedies like what happened in Charleston occur. We often overlook that some of the worst racial atrocities happen in non-Southern states where the Confederate flag does not fly.
It’s also time to take the flag down out of respect to our black brothers and sisters in Christ.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said it well in a blog he wrote June 19. “White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them.”
I know my decision to change my mind about taking the flag down will not be popular among some of my friends and family in South Carolina, but so be it.
The primary reason for my change of heart is based on God’s Holy Word. I Corinthians 8:9 reminds us: “But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.” This leads to verse 13 in the same chapter: “Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.”
If that Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the Capitol in South Carolina is a barrier to the gospel being spread in the state, then it needs to go.
My caution, however, is that society does not go overboard and overreact as it so often tends to do. But from news accounts, that is already happening. There are some people who want to use the South Carolina tragedy for personal, political agendas. That is wrong.
Some states, including Tennessee, are looking at ways to remove the Confederate flag from their symbols. Tennessee legislators are wanting to remove a bust from the State House of Civil War general Nathan Bedford Forrest and do away with the flag on speciality license plates.
Decisions like those should not be “knee-jerk” reactions to what has happened in South Carolina. They need to be reasonably thought out. We cannot erase history.
We must remember one thing. We can try to rid our nation of every reminder or symbol of the Civil War, but that will not end racial prejudice or racial hatred.
If we never see another Confederate flag in our lifetime, it will not end tragedies such as the one that took the lives of nine Christians in South Carolina.
The ONLY thing that will end racial strife and prejudice is the love of Jesus Christ in everyone’s heart — red, yellow, black, and white — as the song reminds us and whatever other color there may be.
Pray for our nation and our world as it relates to racial hatred and strife. Removing a flag or symbol won’t change hearts and minds.
True change can only be accomplished through prayer and a mighty movement of God.