HOW DO WE EXPLAIN STATUES HONORING REBELS?

The Lee Monument (picture from here) is located on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA

Rebellion may seem like either an esoteric topic or childish. Few rebel against their government. So most of us only have inkling of what rebellion portends. As children, almost all of us rebelled against our parents, and almost all of us received punishment.

Still, there are times to rebel, when we must rebel. Then, depending upon our point-of-view, we may think of rebellion as a good or a bad thing.

Saul Who Became Paul

From God’s point-of-view, we are all in rebellion.

Genesis 3:22-24 New King James Version (NKJV)

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Our rebellion continues today. The Christian Church did not end it. In fact, the man most responsible for the spread of the church Jesus established was at first among its worst persecutors. Then his name was Saul. Saul abhorred what he perceived as the rebellion of the Christians. So it is that in the Bible we first hear of him with the stoning of Stephen.

Acts 7:57-60 New King James Version (NKJV)

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Time passed. Regret germinated in Saul’s heart. One day Saul saw the light (see Acts 9:1-19). What happened? Saul spoke with Jesus. How? Who among us knows, but in time Saul became Paul. In time Paul became perhaps the greatest of the apostles, at least as men judge such things. Still Paul remembered Saul.

1 Timothy 1:12-17 New King James Version (NKJV)

Glory to God for His Grace

12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul was a brilliant man, a devoted Pharisee. Still, that did not prevent him from doing something horribly wrong.

Galatians 1:13-14 New King James Version (NKJV)

13 For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Instead of keeping his focus on God, the man once known as Saul became exceedingly zealous for the traditions of his fathers. We all do that to some extent, but our Lord corrects us. So it was with Saul.

Why Did Southerners Keep Slaves?

Why did polite, well-mannered Southern gentlemen keep slaves? They did so because they were exceedingly zealous for the traditions of their fathers. In this one thing, slavery, WE NOW AGREE those in the South erred just bit more than their brethren in the North. So there was war.

Matthew 10:34-39 New King James Version (NKJV)

Christ Brings Division

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

Christians in the North looked to the Bible and condemned slavery. Christians in the South looked to the Bible and defended slavery. Which side twisted God’s Word? Christians on both sides argued vehemently. The dispute tore families apart. The South rebelled and tore the nation apart. Eventually, the Blue and Gray shed blood and thousands upon thousands died.

How did the war end? Following the example of Jesus, Stephen set the example for us. He forgave. In time, God helped his persecutors begin to understand their error. In time, God helped both the North and the South to understand racism is wrong.

51 thoughts on “HOW DO WE EXPLAIN STATUES HONORING REBELS?

  1. Again you deflect rather than face the crux of the issue of these monuments to slave holding. To say that the secession of the South was a constitutional crisis is an obvious understatement, but that issue arises ipso facto of the issue of slavery.

    Slavery was an infected wound to the whole meaning of the Constitution that had been festering for a century and was the subject of numerous unsuccessful compromises between slave holding and free states. It came to a final crisis only when an avowed abolitionist was elected president. Seeing this existential threat to their economy of human bondage, only then did the slave states decide to secede. Absent the slavery issue and absent that election, no constitutional crises, no secession.

    Whether secession was constitutionally justified or not is a fascinating discussion, and it is a fascinating topic, but it is only remotely and secondarily related to the monuments issue, which was all about maintaining white supremacy and putting a romantic haze over the core reason of the war, slavery. The Civil War was fought to maintain slavery, not just on some lawyerly whim to test the constitutionality of secession. You are willfully fooling yourself into not to realizing this just because you refuse to see the ugly truth of it.

    Can you make an argument that some confederate soldiers, even though they had no slaves, may have been pursuaded to go to war by the demagoguery that they were only defending their homes from foreign invaders? Sure. However, Lee was not such an unsophisticated person that he did not fully realize that the core issue that he was fighting for was his state’s right to own people and its economy of human bondage. The fact that Lee knew slavery was a moral abomination just makes his guilt greater than that of his soldiers who may have wrongly been convinced that they were somehow fighting for something more noble.

    And so are we to continue to glorify the morally guilty Lee because his soldiers died honorably and virtuously to preserve a dishonorable institution? And just because they were fooled into believing that the issue that they were fighting for was something more noble? How many soldiers have died honorably and bravely throughout history fooled into believing they were fighting for good when they were really fighting for evil?

    So yes, we should honor foolish men who honestly thought that they battled and died virtuously, but do we honor their foolishness? Do we honor the leaders who knew better and talked them into fighting for evil by convincing them that it was good? Do we build and maintain monuments to a lie? Do we just keep fooling ourselves and others into this lie century after century? Or do we finally accept the truth, terrible though it may be that these poor souls, whether they knew it or not, ultimately died to protect the right of the Southern elite to enslave, rape and breed humans for economic gain?

    Without the cleansing light of such truth, healing reconciliation can never fully come.

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    1. @Tony

      The ugly truth? Let’s see. What is the ugly TRUTH? Tony is a sinner. Tom is a sinner. Everyone is a sinner except Jesus, and without Jesus we must each pay in full for our sins.

      Check out the comment here => https://citizentom.com/2017/06/06/what-is-forgiveness/#comment-74378. It is quite good.

      Meanwhile, let’s consider the ugly truth. Was the South guilty of supporting the cause of slavery? Of course, the South did exactly that. The South refused to deal with an ugly truth, no doubt one of many. You keep acting as if you have to prove that, but you don’t.

      What ugly truth did the North fail to deal with. Well, most in the North thought blacks inferior. Even many decades latter, when Woodrow Wilson was president, and he re-segregated the Federal Government, no one stopped him. An ugly truth is that the North did not fight to end slavery; the North fought to maintain the union. Yet was what the North did constitutional and legal? Well, if not then they had no right to invade the South and lay waste to the land, but they resolutely did just that.

      How did the slave trade begin in United States? Who was responsible for creating this ugly truth. Many of the nations of Europe had a role in that. There were even ships that sailed from New England with goods they sold. Nations sailed to Africa with goods they sold. Then they sailed from Africa to the Americas with slaves crowded within their hulls. Then they sailed from the Americas to Europe with goods that they sold.

      Who sold the slave traders the slaves the carried across the sea? What about that ugly truth? Who captured men and women and children so they could sell them as slaves? Blacks sold other blacks.
      => https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_slave_trade
      => https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangular_trade

      You may wish to consider the etymology of the word “Satan”.
      => http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=satan

      In practice, Satan is styled as the Accuser.
      => http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/accuser/

      Those monuments are to people long dead. When we are all guilty of some sin, what is the point dwelling upon the ugly truths about the people who preceded us?

      Philippians 4:8 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

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  2. Ha, ya now I’m a hater of long dead folks who did nothing to me? 😒

    You’ve run out of real things to say so you quibble. Ok, Lee lead an armed and violent rebellion against the flag he previously fought under, the uniform he previously wore and the nation he swore an oath to defend. If want to argue that “traitor” is the wrong word for that, and demonize me as a hater for using it, then you must have run out of rational and moral arguments, and instead have surrendered to calling me silly names. (How about “snowflake” while you are at it? That makes about as much sense. ). The facts still are what they are.

    Yes, people’s motivations and history are complex (and it is refreshing to see you make that argument for once). No one is saying otherwise. However, some facts are simply undisputed. That Lee rebelled is one of them. And that the war would not have been fought absent the white supremacy issue of the subjugation of a people by denying them their humanity is another. You want to say that there were many other motivations at play by every single soldier, who is arguing otherwise? However, to completely divorce these dominant issues from Lee’s legacy and the symbolism meant by his statue is just magical thinking and romantic revisionism.

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    1. Does hatred have to make any sense? Consider the story of Cain and Abel. God refused Cain’s sacrifice. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice. Mad at God and jealous of Abel, Cain killed Abel.

      Was Cain’s behavior rational? No, but no one laughs and calls the story preposterous. Who is silly enough to suggest no one could be so foolish?

      Does saying that Cain could do such a thing demonize him? No. He did it.

      You called long dead folks traitors. You set aside the fact that gentlemen like Robert E. Lee had a difficult choice. Defend their state, or defend the Union. As they saw it, the Union was about to invade their states. Literally, the Union did invade their states.

      Was the invasion of the South justified? Under the Constitution? I guess we are not going to quibble about that. We both know the Constitution provides no answer.

      Consider what I said to Stephen.
      https://citizentom.com/2017/06/04/they-hate-our-dead/#comment-74366

      Why did the North invade the South? Was it end slavery? No, and that is the simple fact that makes your argument hollow. The soldiers from the Union did not fight to end slavery. Lincoln conceded the South’s right to own slaves. He did not purpose to end slavery; he purposed to save the Union. The necessity to create a union is why the Constitution permitted the South to have slaves.

      Was the invasion justified? Obviously, Lincoln and many others thought so. Perhaps they were right, but I wonder how well Lincoln slept during the war. Lincoln is much admired — I certainly admire the man — but was he a happy president? Not likely.

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  3. Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t hate anybody Tom, especially not someone who betrayed his country over a century ago. Who has the time and energy for such nonsense? Christians don’t “hate” people because they sin. We recognize that we are all sinners. However, as you know better than I, we don’t romanticize and glorify their sins either.

    That Jefferson betrayed his loyalty to his country in favor of his loyalty to his state is an historical fact. That Jefferson would not have felt the need to do so absent the issue of preserving the evil of statutory human bondage is a historical fact. That, as you have said, our ancestors were mostly white, post Civil War immigrants to the U.S so we and our families were never harmed parties of slavery and Jim Crow indisputably means Jefferson would not particularly engender my personal hatred in any event. Claiming that I and (not my but) New Orlean’s mayor “hates [their] dead” is ad hominem laced demagoguery designed only to arouse the bile of hatred, not abate it. I’m surprised that you associate yourself with such an uncivil diatribe. It counters everything you have written previously about how Christians should act with civility, compassion and love, even in the face of vehement disagreement.

    However, to paraphrase a great Christian sentiment by a great man, insofar as anyone’s human dignity is diminished anywhere, we are all diminished. Our rational and emotional Christian empathy for an entire group of people who for centuries had their human dignity diminished by another entire group of people through the cruelty of legally enforced human servitude is an act of compassionate love, not hatred.

    I’ve conceded constantly that Jefferson was a virtuous man in most respects and he is perhaps one of the most brilliant military leaders our country has ever had. As much as Jefferson and other confederate soldiers may have fought nobly for other virtuous intentions, you know as well as I do that claiming that preserving the evil institution of slavery was not the primary impetus of the Civil War is just historical revisionism blatantly designed to whitewash evil as good. That historical revisionism of history began with the erection of these statues, was used to justify a century of Jim Crow and continues to this day. Continuation of that evil fantasy corrupts the real history, it dishonors the dead on both sides and it wraps the evil deprivation of the God given dignity of hundreds of generations of African Americans in a faux nobility that only perpetuates that deprivation.

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    1. @Tony

      Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t hate anybody Tom, especially not someone who betrayed his country over a century ago. Who has the time and energy for such nonsense?

      You do, apparently. As I have said before, you say too much for effect. The term for it is “posturing”. That is what all this crap with removing the monuments in New Orleans is about. It is just a dumb pose that makes some people feel good.

      Did the North regard the rebels with some anger? Yeah, but they tried to control their fury. So they just punished the “traitors” by making the rebels swear a loyalty oath.

      When we are talking about an entire region rebelling, it is absurd to speak of traitorous conduct. Unfortunately, when we get angry at people, we tend to lower ourselves by calling the people who make us angry absurd names.

      The Constitution does not explain how a state is supposed to secede from the Union. Do the states have the right to secede or don’t they? You have the answer? Then point to it in the Constitution. Otherwise, you may as well quite pretending you are any better than the rebels. We are not.

      How was the issue settled? With the blood of a soldiers spilled upon battlefields. That is what Abraham Lincoln spoke of in the Gettysburg Address.

      When the rebels fired upon Fort Sumter, they foolishly (in hindsight) gave Lincoln the pretext he needed to squelch the rebellion. Nobody really knew what was to come, but after the First Battle of Mananas people knew it would not be a picnic.

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  4. @Anon,

    Forgive this comment for being time late. I have been on the road for a particularly grueling few days and so this is the first moment that I have had time to look at your excellent response above.

    First, let me say that this is the most cogent argument written here thus far in defense these statues. No high rhetoric or romantic revisionism about the South, but just a straight, well reasoned, evidence based presentation on why we should preserve historical artifacts. And your references to the Roman Collosium and the national registry were particularly persuasive. (Makes me wonder if you might have legal training because it is a very lawyerly argument, and I mean that as a compliment). That said. I think that what you said is indeed persuasive but not convincing, much less conclusive. Here are a few reasons:

    1. While these statues have historical significance, if there is a scale for such things, I don’t think that statues dedicated after the Civil War would have the historical value of something like the Colosseum, an architectual wonder that has incredible historical and archeological value completely apart from whether innocent people were slaughtered there or not. However, your point that our history is short and that at least one of these statutes was considered historically significant enough that it would be placed on a historical registry is well taken.

    2. I don’t think that New Orleans plans to destroy these statues, but instead plans to eventually display them in a time, place and manner that gives better context to their “true” historical significance, including the good and the bad. It would be difficult to move the Colloseum, even in the unlikely event that modern Italian Christians somehow suddenly resented that this archeological wonder might be a monument to barbarity. On the other hand, even moved to a museum and displayed in the factusl context of the time and place that they were erected, these statutes will retain their significance as artifacts, and in a way which will shine a more realistic light on their historical significance rather that dampening it.

    3. A statute on public land at a key city center location has symbolic meaning that goes beyond its historical and archeological significance as an artifact.. As such a symbol, it is a monument, not just to what the city actually prizes from its past, but also how it sees itself in the present and how it envisions its future. I doubt that anyone in Rome looks at the Colosseum and romanticizes it as a prized monument to a notion that the brutality and slaughter that went on there is a heritage that they see as the center of their culture now or in the future. As noted before, New Orleans could have kept these statues where they were and simply added plaques and signs that illucidated their dark context as well as their more noble meaning. I grew up near New Orleans (and wasted a good bit of my early youth there). I drilled at NAS New Orleans for almost a decade in the Navy Reserves. I still go there quite often. If you have ever been to Lee Circle in New Orleans, you know how inappropriate a time and place Lee Circle is to serve as aa more dialectical historical display. Many of the other statues are in such other settings. It would be like having a giant tall monument to barbarity with only a tiny disclaimer attached: “This statue placed on an enormous pedestal on some the highest ground in the city is a monument to one of the leaders in war fought in defense of mans’ inhumanity to man – please don’t try this at home”.

    Finally, I’m not saying (pardon the bad pun) that this is a black and white issue, either literally or figuratively. As I said, you reason out factual and historical points very well, much better points than ranting emotional nonsense like “they hate our dead” (talk about demonizing the other side). However, weighing the practical and historical arguments and evidence of both sides, New Orleans has the better case that they are correct in utilizing these public spaces in a way that better represents the actual history of New Orleans, where the city sees itself now and what their vision of the future is.

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    1. @Tony

      You are advocating taking down the statues because of an emotional response to them. You just cover up by asserting that you “know” what people were thinking when they put them up. Now when the shoe is on the other foot, “they hate our dead”, that is demonizing the other side. Well, they fact is you and your mayor called some people traitors. You do hate them.

      Like

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