Having grown up in the South and loving all things southern, it has been somewhat of a struggle to examine some things from the viewpoint of the gospel. One such thing is the Confederate flag. I loved watching the Dukes of Hazard scoot through the countryside in ‘General Lee’. I enjoy Civil War history. I even participated in a Civil War Reenactment. And since I didn’t live during the Civil War, the confederate flag has always been a symbol of Southern heritage.
But, as with any symbol, there is no real meaning to a Confederate flag, only the various meanings that people attach to it. There are many who hold to the “Lost Cause” idea created after the Civil War, and therefore, use the flag without racial meaning. The Confederate Flag is deeply symbolic, representing for many ideas of Southern heritage and pride not connected to segregation, slavery or racism. I believe this is how it was used in the Dukes of Hazard TV series. To my knowledge, none of the people I know who cherish the Confederate flag attach any racial significance to it.
However, most observers view the flag in light of its actual historical use, which is how most people view most things. To detach something from its historical context usually renders that thing irrelevant. Consider the famous people you know. For example, Wyatt Earp would have fallen off the pages of history if not for the OK Corral fiasco. No one would know Larry Bird if not for his basketball success. Or, consider the cross. Detached from its historical context, it wouldn’t carry much meaning today.
The Confederate flag does have an historical context. Contrary to popular opinion, what is widely recognized as the Confederate Flag today was never actually adopted by the Confederacy. It was the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. After the war, the flag was used in the Southern states at Civil War ceremonies, reunions and cemeteries. For many Americans the flag of Lee’s army was a symbol of southern pride, commemorating the war dead and clinging onto a distinctly southern culture. Later, it increasingly became associated with the rise of white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan as racism and segregation became an increasing source of conflict in the USA. In 1948 it also became the symbol of the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as Dixiecrats) which tried to resist civil rights platforms in the Democrat Party. As such, it was used as a symbol to promote and defend segregation and racism in the South throughout much of the early to mid 20th century. And currently, its most common use is by extreme racist groups.
Because of its short and varied history, there is no positive use of the Confederate flag from the viewpoint of the gospel. Right or wrong, the stigma attached to it by the vast majority of people is a negative one. At best, it serves as a reminder of years gone by in the South, and to commemorate the bravery of Confederate soldiers. At its worst, it is a purely racist symbol of hatred and isolation.
I was raised in the South fully believing the Confederate flag had redeeming meaning. While I’m not opposed to someone displaying their flag as a show of their Southern pride, in no way is the Confederate flag able to promote the gospel or acceptance of the gospel in the lives of mankind. If I fly the Confederate flag, will my testimony be strengthened or diminished? As I grow and mature in Christ, and strive to be a light shining in darkness for His namesake, I want to lay aside the things that hinder the gospel. Unfortunately, the Confederate flag is one such Southern treasure.
On the other hand, sweet iced tea, dinner on the ground and grandma’s chicken and dumplings have a way of bringing people together, breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for the gospel to flourish.