The tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., recently headlined the news. Especially the actions of the angry white supremacist who intentionally slammed his vehicle into a crowd of opposing demonstrators, killing one person and seriously injuring a score of others.
That heinous act of terrorism has rightfully resulted in a national outrage. It’s encouraging to see people of diverse backgrounds unite in condemning neo-Nazis who arrogantly claim superiority because of race.
Every thinking person knows that kind of mindless bigotry has no place in our society. It certainly has no place under the banner of the cross. The gospel is a message of racial reconciliation and equality (see Galatians 3:28).
The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Every follower of Christ should be deeply offended when someone carries a cross while wearing a white hood and espousing animosity for another race.
Since the Charlottesville tragedy occurred during a rally that was held near the city’s statue of General Robert E. Lee, the national discussion quickly turned to what should be done about Confederate memorials.
Some have demanded that all statues of Confederate soldiers be removed since they are symbols of racism and reminders of a part of American history best forgotten. Some protestors have reacted in anger and impulsively destroyed these controversial statues without permission.
As pastors and church leaders grapple with addressing these contentious issues, here are five biblical principles we would do well to consider:
1. Many monuments can serve as healthy reminders of significant historical events and should be respected.
The Bible records numerous occasions when God ordained memorials to remind future generations of His providential care, such as the rainbow, the 12 stones piled on the Jordan River’s banks, and the Lord’s Supper. All are memorials of significant events that remind us of God’s intervention and teach us important lessons from history.
Some of our most valuable lessons come from negative examples. First Corinthians 10:6 reminds us of the Israelites’ rebellion in the wilderness, which resulted in thousands of deaths.
There’s an old axiom that says those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. In some ways Americans need to be reminded of the horror of slavery and the Civil War so that we don’t make such mistakes again.
2. It may be appropriate to remove some statues.
A seven-foot statue of coach Joe Paterno stood outside the football stadium at Penn State University for over a decade.
Then, the public learned Paterno had turned a blind eye toward a child-abuse scandal on his staff. In 2012 the university removed the statue, citing that it had become a “source of division and an obstacle to healing.” Most agree it was the right move.
When the righteous Josiah became King of Judah, one of his first moves was to knock down the altars and shrines that had been erected to false gods (see 2 Kings 23:12). Obviously, not all memorials and shrines are deserved and some need to be removed.
3. The removal of a memorial should be done in a legal, orderly manner.
There have been times when I was horribly offended by vulgar depictions of Jesus Christ, yet I protested their displays within the boundaries of the law. We are a people governed by laws. It is illegal to deface or destroy public property. There are proper procedures to follow to remove statues.
Those procedures usually take effort, patience, and communication—all positive virtues that discourage impetuous, ill-informed decisions. God ordained government so that we can live in an orderly society. When government officials permit an angry mob to destroy public property without repercussion, it can only lead to anarchy.
4. Just because the person depicted by the statue is flawed, that is not in itself justification for the removal of a statue.
We can list dozens of American heroes who made significant contributions to the nation in spite of serious character defects. Think of the flawed Bible characters, from Abraham to King David, who are memorialized as heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. If we remove all tributes to imperfect historical figures none would be left standing (except one).
5. The crucial issue at stake today is not statues.
The crucial issue is the evil forces attempting to intentionally divide this country and destroy it. Some of Satan’s minions hate the values America has stood for over the years. They are determined to do whatever they can to divide us by racial, religious, economic or political differences. They are gaining momentum.
Godly Americans would be wise not to fall prey to the villains who would pit us against one another. In this potentially explosive environment, Americans would do well to stay calm and remain united so that this country will survive as “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
Photo source: istock
At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.www