Leslie Knope and the Confederate Battle Flag

I love the Deep South. Dominant SEC football and mostly meh basketball. Pork and chicken barbecue with vinegar and white sauces. A culture that celebrates food, hospitality, and storytelling. An incredibly diverse array of music traditions. The Gulf, plains, rolling hills, rivers, and forests. Even the storms; deep torrential downpours and artillery show lightning. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know that about me, and woe unto the poor individual who gets me going on Alabama football.

But there are some things I don’t love. The Deep South is home to crippling inequality, high rates of broken families, poor education, and (as highlighted by this week) a destructive ongoing relationship with white supremacy. Even those who don’t believe its sinful tenets can be swept along in its prideful current. Following the Civil Rights Movement, racism’s adapted ability to hide under the surface makes it far too easy to deny its enormous spread.

Amy-Poehler-is-in-a-Pawnee-state-of-mind-6IETPTS-x-largeThat’s why I’ve always loved Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler’s character on Parks and Recreation. A determined and hopeful deputy director of her local parks department, Leslie’s love for Pawnee, Indiana, knows no bounds. She loves the scenery, local businesses, culture, and even the insane citizens who manage to turn every town forum into a trip down the rabbit hole. Leslie knows everything there is to know about Pawnee, literally writing the book on the town. Because of that, she also knows things that aren’t so lovable about Pawnee. A history of oppressing minorities and women. Ongoing tension with the native people of the area. Pawnee’s poor funding, lackluster facilities, and raccoon infestation as compared to neighboring Eagleton. The Sweetums candy factory’s willingness to spread poor health for profit. Sexist, opportunistic, and corrupt local officials. Despite all this and more, Leslie Knope truly loves Pawnee.

I really get Leslie Knope. She is someone who can see the problems in a place, name them out loud, and even fight against them not simply despite love for a place but because of it.

My love for the Deep South doesn’t just make me love what is lovable, but also makes me want to make the most I can of the region that has meant so much to me. When I look at the Confederate Battle Flag, I know we can do better. When I see that flag, I am reminded of a country dead in history and dead in sin whose “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition” according to the Vice President of the Confederacy, and no amount of revision and romance about heroism or standing up to tyranny can wash that away. When I see that flag I remember that it was designed to represent the CSA’s military in its fight to maintain this inequality, and that this same flag was suddenly revived roughly a century later as a symbol for the fight against desegregation and civil rights.

To my fellow Southerners, let’s take down the flag. Many of our families taught us to be better than this, teaching us to love and welcome our neighbors with a smile and something delicious from the kitchen. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to be better, welcoming all as He welcomes us. And that welcome is incompatible with hatred. As Russell Moore writes, “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.” Even our homeland itself has taught us to be better. The Confederate Battle Flag is far too drenched in blood and sin to be remade into an appropriate symbol for such a great place and greater people. It may be a symbol, but it is not merely a symbol. It means something, just as the act of taking it down means something. Let’s send the clear message that we don’t have to cling to something so ugly to show pride and joy for where we’re from. Let’s send the clear message to those who refuse to change that they can’t hold us back. Let’s love our home with symbols that aren’t built on the backs of our brothers and sisters. Let’s take down the flag.

Leslie Knope and the Confederate Battle Flag

White Christians: it’s time to be extremists against racism

Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SCWhite Christians, we need to talk.

That isn’t to say that others shouldn’t read it. In fact, I hope my friends of all colors and faiths will read this and get something out of it. And even help me out where I struggle, because I’ll be the first to admit I’m ludicrously white.

But to those who share my skin tone and faith in Jesus Christ as God come to Earth to redeem Creation, it’s time to say a few things.

First, racism isn’t dead. It didn’t just dry up and blow away after the Emancipation Proclamation, or the Thirteenth Amendment, or the Fourteenth Amendment, or the Civil Rights Act, or when Obama was elected, or because a black family attends your church. At times it feels more inflamed than ever before. It certainly doesn’t help that in today’s digital age we can all feel each other’s pain so much more quickly. I can’t fathom what it must be like to be black today, with such horrid rhetoric constantly seething through the emotional distance of social media and evil images of violence filling the news. Today when a young man says, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country–and you have to go” before killing nine black Christians made in God’s image, he screams it at every black person with a TV, computer, or smartphone.

Second, racism is evil, racism is sin, and racism is a gospel issue. I deeply belief our faith should affect everything as everything is God’s Creation but that doesn’t make something a gospel issue. Racism, however, must be seen as not simply a tertiary issue for us to discuss but instead as a gospel issue because I don’t know if it’s possible to have a proper view of the gospel while leaving room for racism. How can you believe that God created humanity in His image and “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” and God’s “purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” while believing that any race is intrinsically superior or inferior, or even allowing “room for disagreement” on the topic of this disgusting sin? All sins work directly against God’s plan for human flourishing, but few sins directly contradict His very plan for reconciliation and redemption. Racism is one of them.

Third, the time for silence is over. Yes, we need to listen to our brothers and sisters of other races. We can’t and shouldn’t do this without them. All of us are necessary for reconciliation; anything less is more bickering and white control. But a numb silence overborne by the patronizing calls for healing from politicians, politicians who don’t want us to look at systemic causes, won’t do a thing to enact the Kingdom. It’s time to call a spade a spade, to call racism a disgusting plague scarring the body of Christ. Acting “speechless” and “shocked” by every drop of blood in the constant flood lulls us into numbness. We mourn, like a status on Facebook, and move on because we’re white (ie, not targeted) and we’re so totally not racist. Instead, we shouldn’t be shocked by those bathed in such a horrid evil acting evilly, no matter what faith they claim. We shouldn’t be quiet and let the church founded by the Son of God, even simply our small white portion of the greater story, be conflated with the evil of those who lie to the world and maybe even themselves when they claim the name “Christian.”

It is time to walk a hard line on racism. Eschewing lynchings or having a closet free of Klan robes is not enough. The gospel demands that we actively work towards reconciliation across all lines, while clearly and strongly opposing the evil in our midst. When a white brother or sister says something that contradicts biblical and Christlike teachings on race, say something to them and make it very clear that while they may not have killed anyone, attitudes can be violent and hatred is murder. How the heck did we get known for blasting non-Christians over abortion and homosexuality, but are too afraid to unapologetically oppose racism in our midst? If they persist, oppose them strongly and even publicly. As a pastor, let me add this: there is absolutely no room in leadership or ministry of any kind for racism of any kind. Period. Just like you wouldn’t want a doctor who disagrees with the Hippocratic Oath, you shouldn’t want a minister or Bible study teacher who carries such a fundamental disagreement with Jesus’ plan for reconciliation. What racism that refuses to be transformed by the gospel must be excised from the Kingdom. Is that extreme? Yes. Will some dismiss us as “liberals” and “race baiters”? Yes. Do we risk backlash and opposition? Yes. But Christ is an extremist. Christ promises opposition. But He also promises reconciliation.

White Christians: it’s time to be extremists against racism