WHEN SHOULD WE HONOR ONE OF OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS?

Le sacrifice d'Isaac par Abraham (mosaïques de...
Le sacrifice d’Isaac par Abraham (mosaïques de la Chapelle palatine, Palerme) (Photo credit: dalbera)

What inspired this post? I saw this article in The Washington Times.

Southern Discomfort: U.S. Army seeks removal of Lee, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson honors

The U.S. Army War College, which molds future field generals, has begun discussing whether it should remove its portraits of Confederate generals — including those of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Nestled in rural Pennsylvania on the 500-acre Carlisle Barracks, the war college is conducting an inventory of all its paintings and photographs with an eye for rehanging them in historical themes to tell a particular Army story.

During the inventory, an unidentified official — not the commandant, Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III — asked the administration why the college honors two generals who fought against the United States, college spokeswoman Carol Kerr said.

“I do know at least one person has questioned why we would honor individuals who were enemies of the United States Army,” Ms. Kerr said. “There will be a dialogue when we develop the idea of what do we want the hallway to represent.” (continued here)

Is it proper for us to honor Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson? In an America now fading from our nation’s memory (and history), men knew that they should honor God above all. Thus, when we honor one of our fellow human beings, we should do so because that person honors God.

Consider how God wants us to honor Him. What example did Jesus set before us?

Philippians 2:5-11 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus set before us an example of absolute obedience and humility. Unlike Jesus, we cannot die upon a cross for the sake of mankind. Nonetheless, we can strive to be obedient to the commandments of God. Such is how Abraham learned to pleased God.

Genesis 22:2-12 Good News Translation (GNT)

“Take your son,” God said, “your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much, and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain that I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.”

Early the next morning Abraham cut some wood for the sacrifice, loaded his donkey, and took Isaac and two servants with him. They started out for the place that God had told him about. On the third day Abraham saw the place in the distance. Then he said to the servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham made Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice, and he himself carried a knife and live coals for starting the fire. As they walked along together, Isaac spoke up, “Father!”

He answered, “Yes, my son?”

Isaac asked, “I see that you have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide one.” And the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place which God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son and placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he picked up the knife to kill him. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!”

He answered, “Yes, here I am.”

12 “Don’t hurt the boy or do anything to him,” he said. “Now I know that you honor and obey God, because you have not kept back your only son from him.” (from here)

Abraham honored God by obeying Him, and now we honor Abraham because Abraham obeyed God.

Exactly how did Abraham’s commitment to sacrifice Isaac honor God? Some translations do not make that entirely clear. So let us consider other translations of verse twelve.

Most translations speak of “fearing God.” Since fear usually leads to obedience, that’s why proverbs (Proverbs 15:33) says fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Genesis 22:12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Another translation includes the word revere.

Genesis 22:12 Amplified Bible (AMP)

12 And He said, Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear and revere God, since you have not held back from Me or begrudged giving Me your son, your only son.

Still another notes the fearlessness required to obey God. As Romans 8:31 observes, God wants us to have faith that if He is for us, who can be against us?

Genesis 22:12 The Message (MSG)

12 “Don’t lay a hand on that boy! Don’t touch him! Now I know how fearlessly you fear God; you didn’t hesitate to place your son, your dear son, on the altar for me.”

Such faith leads to trust.

Genesis 22:12 New Century Version (NCV)

12 The angel said, “Don’t kill your son or hurt him in any way. Now I can see that you trust God and that you have not kept your son, your only son, from me.”

So were Lee and Jackson honorable men. Did their lives show they strove to honor our Creator? It seems they did.

Before Lee chose to serve in the Army of the South, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of a Union Army. Both leaders in the North and the South trusted and respected Lee. Moreover, it appears that Lee was a sincere Christian (see THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER OF ROBERT E. LEE), and he behaved as one. As noted in The Washington Times‘ article, after the war Lee advocated reconciliation with the North.

Similarly Jackson was a devout Christian (see “STONEWALL” JACKSON: CHRISTIAN SOLDIER).

Often misunderstood are Jackson’s feelings about slavery. He owned two slaves, both of whom had asked him to purchase them after the deaths of their masters. Anna Morrison brought three slaves to the marriage. Jackson viewed human bondage with typical simplicity. God had established slavery for reasons man could not and should not challenge. A good Christian had the twin responsibilities of treating slaves with paternal affection and introducing them to the promises of God as found in holy scripture. Toward that end, Jackson taught a Sunday afternoon Bible class for all slaves and freedmen in Lexington. (from here)

In hindsight, we can condemn Lee and Jackson for fighting for the preservation of slavery, but that oversimplifies the issue. Slavery is an old plague. In every time and place occupied by men, slavery has existed in some form. Even today here in the United States, while we puff ourselves up as being against slavery, we allow many among us to exploit the labor of illegal immigrants, and all of us find some way to justify to ourselves the absurdly inexpensive goods we buy from overseas. Even though Lee and Jackson may have fought on the “wrong side,” they did not do so for personal gain. They fought out of loyalty to the South, and they fought honorably. With such conduct, they have earned honor and respect.

5 thoughts on “WHEN SHOULD WE HONOR ONE OF OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS?

  1. I enjoyed the links to Professor Robertson and The Reverend Colonel Jones. Lee is a particular hero of mine and Jackson, eccentric and difficult as he was, was certainly a gifted general officer at the regimental, brigade, and Corps level.

    But your reasoning doesn’t address the question posed in the post as to why the Army War College (or any element of the Armed Forces of the United States) should honor these men who violated their oaths to the country and to the Army and who participated in armed rebellion against the nation that had trained and sponsored them for years before the war. The issue extends beyond the Army War College to the naming of Forts, ships, and other facilities. Your analysis might have some bearing on why a church would honor them (there is a stained glass window dedicated to each of them in the National Cathedral in Washington), but not why they should have a place of honor in our military.

    I think there is an answer, but it is a lengthy, complex answer that would take a long time to develop. Its essential elements are different for Lee than for Jackson. The common element between them requires a fair degree of historic understanding of perceptions in the mid-19th Century of what the nature of the bonds were that formed the Union. There were a few visionaries (Webster, Lincoln, for example) who saw the Union as an inviolate commingling of the various interests of the former colonies (and later added territories) into a stronger, indissoluble whole. But that view certainly was not dominant in the 1850s, and was very much counterbalanced by those who saw the Nation as a kind of joint venture from which states could walk away if they felt their interests so demanded. Of course, the War settled that on Lincolnian terms, but men like Lee and Jackson were not extremists in their more Calhounist views of the Republic, views that were widely held in the South as regional frictions over tariffs, infrastructure development and slavery flared and ebbed throughout the first half of the 19th century.

    After the War, it was sound policy to promote reconciliation with the South. The Nation benefitted from Lincoln’s sentiment that a “prodigal son” atmosphere was the correct note, not a policy of retribution and subjugation. This meant that acknowledging and validating the reverence many felt in the South for General Lee was an appropriate course. Particularly so because Lee himself struck a dignified and constructive note by turning his energies and skills toward education and the rebuilding of the southern economy by turning out well-educated young men form Washington College. He was most judicious in his public statements after the war. It is not errant speculation to posit that, had not Lee been as careful as he was in striking the right notes of positive reconstruction, the immediate post-war period might have been far more violent, repressive, and economically ruinous than it was. That Lee also had been a gallant capable officer before the War, served his country ably in Mexico, in engineering posts, and as Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point also goes on the ledger as a major credit. His military skills and leadership qualities are beyond question. He was eventually pardoned and his citizenship restored in the late 20th centrury. These are the reasons that the United States Army can honor him.

    That General Lee was a devout Christian doesn’t play into it at all, frankly. It counts for a great deal in certain circles. Anyone who has studied the man knows that his personal religious devotion and his service to the Episcopal Church were noteworthy attributes. But for the United States Army, these stellar qualities are irrelevant. The Army is our fighting force, our shield and bucler. It is composed of honorable officers from every major religion. It cannot and should not be in the business of bestowing honors because of how well these men perform as Hindus, Jews, Christians, or Muslims. They can be honored for how well they lead their subordinates and how well they defend the interests of the Nation in the performance of military duties.

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    1. Thank you for a thoughtful comment.

      Here is a link to the oath. http://www.history.army.mil/html/faq/oaths.html

      Breaking the oath to support the Constitution of allegiance to the United States of America is a legitimate concern, but I don’t think it was or is much of issue. In fact, I have never heard anyone bring it up before. Given that men took their oaths more seriously back in the Civil War era, I find it strange that I have never read anything to indicate that the North thought Southerner officers were breaking their oaths. The Constitution does not say anything about succession. Since the states created the union, voluntarily joining it, and the Constitution says nothing for or against succession, whether the states retained the right to depart the union was an open question. I think everyone thought the South honestly believed that they had a constitutional right to secede.

      Did the war settle the issue of succession? In one sense it did. The government showed it could rally sufficient force to hold the union together. But did that settle the moral question that Lee and Jackson confronted? Not really. Does it not take a bit more than brute force to establish the difference between right and wrong?

      Is the fact Lee and Jackson were good Christians relevant? Without a code of honor and a sense of duty to one’s fellow men, soldiers serve themselves, not their country. Unless soldiers care more for the life to come than they care for this life, they are mere mercenaries.

      Check out http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/douglasmacarthurthayeraward.html.

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  2. I disagree with that last statement particularly. I have known very good senior (and junior, for that matter) officers in all branches who provided excellent leadership and who either had no religious beliefs or were not Christians. I think it entirely possible for an officer to serve his country and his fellow men with great honor and have no particular religious beliefs. There are many faiths represented in our officer ranks. Some do not have detailed “life to come” theologies.

    The Constitution was created by the People, not the States. They states had to buy in, of course, through a ratification process. The People divvied up responsibilities between national and state governments and memorialized the division in the document.

    I agree (and said so previously) that the right of secession was not explicitly granted by the Constitution and that the issue was not clear at the time of the War. But that fact (and it qualifies as a fact, I think) does not address the issue of whether the United States Army should honor officers who went over to the Rebellion. I personally am not uncomfortable with honors extended General Lee by the Army for reasons I stated in a very simplified form in my previous comment. Jackson is a bit less clear to me, and the rationalization for honoring him in a current American military context is a bit more complex, I fear. But the answer can’t be found in Scripture or in mining the quality of these gentlemen’s Christian beliefs, a thesis that seemed to be the backbone of your post on the subject.

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    1. There are many codes besides the Bible that people honor, and some do not concern the life to come. Nonetheless, those that have the most powerful effect upon human conduct do. Thus, the Vikings and the Roman legions fought bravely long before their descendents knew of Christ.

      Because we live in a nation with a Christian heritage even those who do claim to belief in Christ Jesus have been strongly influenced by the teachings contained in the Bible. However, unless we have a revival that cannot last. Then we will see if an army of Atheists and Agnostics requires a different sort of discipline than an army of Christians.

      As to honoring Lee and Jackson, I have stated my case. In any event, I suspect both gentleman have received the only reward that matters.

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