Evangelical leaders cry for removal of Confederate flags in aftermath of Charleston 'terrorism'

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Sheila DiCiorrio holds a sign asking for the confederate battle flag that flies at the South Carolina State House to be removed in Columbia, S.C., June 20, 2015. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced June 22 plans to remove the flag from capitol grounds. | REUTERS/Jason Miczek

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Christian Examiner) – The president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is echoing calls for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from South Carolina's capitol grounds in Columbia.

Debate over the presence of the flag in front of the capitol has been renewed in the wake of the mass killing at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston June 17, when 21-year-old Dylann Roof entered the church and opened fire on the congregation. Nine people, including the church's pastor, were killed.

Roof is white and expressed in a manifesto prior to the attack that blacks are inferior. He also wrote that he wished to start a race war by killing the church members, all of whom were black.

The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night.

Moore grew up in Mississippi, which has the Confederate battle flag as part of its state flag. While he, himself a descendant of Confederate veterans, writes that he understands the desire to preserve tradition in the deeply religious South, he claims tradition is not an excuse for Christians.

"White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them," Moore writes.

"The gospel frees us from scrapping for our 'heritage' at the expense of others. As those in Christ, this descendant of Confederate veterans [Moore himself] has more in common with a Nigerian Christian than I do with a non-Christian white Mississippian who knows the right use of 'y'all' and how to make sweet tea."

Moore writes that the battle flag represents resistance to the abolitionist and Civil Rights movements.

"The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night," he writes.

"That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ," said Moore.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told Religion News Service, he agrees with Moore.

"Gospel-minded Christians should support taking down the flag," Mohler said. "Love of neighbor outweighs even love of region, and it certainly requires that we disassociate ourselves from any hint of racism, now or in the past."

Phillip Gunn, speaker of the house in Mississippi, Monday also said in news stories the confederate part of state flag "needs to be removed." Mohler thanked Gunn for his support "as a Christian" and pointed out he is the chairman of the board of trustees at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said during a press conference at the state's capitol yesterday it is time for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from statehouse grounds.

"For many people in our state the flag stands for traditions that are noble, traditions of history and of heritage," Haley said. "The hate-filled murdered who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people of our state who respect and in many ways revere it."

Haley said many South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty. Some even see it as a memorial to ancestors who felt as if they were defending their home state in a conflict long ago. Haley said those views are not racist.

For others, however, she said the flag represents the pain of slavery and the humiliation of Jim Crow laws that reinforced discrimination and segregation in the state.

"As a state, we can survive and we can thrive as we have done while still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and loser here. For those who wish to show respect for the flag on private property, no one will stand in your way. But the statehouse is different and the events of the past week call on us to look at this in a different way."

Haley praised South Carolina for the way its citizens had handled the shooting at Emanuel AME Church. There was no looting, no rioting and no large protest marches that turned violent. Even after the shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, in North Charleston in April, Haley said South Carolinians had reacted by talking rather than fighting. The police officer who shot and killed Scott, Michael Slager, has been charged with his murder.

"We have stared evil in the eye and watched good people killed in one of the most sacred places. We were hurt and broken and we needed to heal. We were able to start that process not by talking about issues that divide us, but by holding vigils, by hugging our neighbors, by honoring those we lost, and by falling on our knees in prayer," she said.

Haley said the flag may be a part of the state's past, but it does not represent its future.

The current discussion over the removal of the flag is not the first that has taken place in the state. After intense debate 15 years ago, the Confederate flag was unseated from its place atop the capitol dome in Columbia, but it remained on capitol grounds.

Now, Republican South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, one of only two black U.S. senators, said in a statement the flag must be removed from view as a symbol of the state.

"While the Confederate battle flag did not cause this violent act, it is clear that our state and the people of South Carolina have reopened the debate on the flag. There is no doubt that South Carolina has a rich and complex history, and the Confederate battle flag is a part of that. The flag means many things to many people. I do not believe the vast majority of folks who support the flag have hate in their hearts. Their heritage is a part of our state's history, and we should not ignore that.

"However, for so many others in our state, the flag represents pain and oppression. Because of that, as a life-long South Carolinian, as someone who loves this state and will never call anywhere else home, I believe it is time for the flag to come down," Scott said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.] also said in a statement he supported Gov. Haley's call to remove the flag.

"The love and forgiveness displayed by victims of this horrific, racially motivated shooting, along with all the people of Charleston, is an example to us all. The victims' families and the parishioners of the Mother Emanuel AME Church reflect everything good about the Christian religion and the people of South Carolina," Graham said.

"I hope that, by removing the flag, we can take another step towards healing and recognition - and a sign that South Carolina is moving forward."