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Confederate Statues and My Relationships

The alienation and conflict experienced in many families and personal relationships after the presidential election of 2016 appear to persist in American culture as the summer of 2017 draws to a close. The topics are somewhat different (Confederate monuments, illegal immigration, race relations) and in addition to the President of the United States, people are focusing on other players (the alt-right or alt-left movements, for instance), but the emotions seem familiar: anger, anxiety, paranoia, outrage, dismay, and so on.

As a Christian, how am I to manage myself and my relationships during these tense times? Is it possible, or even desirable, for me to engage in conversations about tense topics without experiencing further conflict or alienation?

In Luke 6:27-49, Jesus gives moral and ethical instructions for his followers.

·        I am to love my enemies and do good to those who hate me.

·        I am to bless those who curse me and pray for those who mistreat me.

·        I am to practice nonretaliation and selfless generosity.

·        I am to do to others as I would have them do to me.

·        I am to engage those who are unlike me in relationships where I can express the love of Jesus Christ.

·        I am not to judge or condemn but forgive.

·        I will become like the one who is training me.

·        I am to examine my own life before addressing issues I see in others.

·        What is in my heart is revealed in all my words and actions.

There are many applications of this text for the current social climate in our country, but for the sake of this discussion, I will narrow the list to these concerns:

·        Am I practicing the golden rule?

·        How am I relating to those who are unlike me?

·        Am I examining my own life?

How do these concerns apply to the issue of removing the Confederate statues? The meaning of those statues to all the citizens of the United States, as well as a how people choose to react to the removal of those statues are subjects worthy of reflection and prayer. Here I will not attempt to advocate for one point of view over another, but will focus on the processes involved in how people interact. Specifically, has my approach to the subject has been Christ-like? What effect do my words and actions have on the people with whom I am engaged in these matters? The process is at least as important as the issues involved.

Some assumptions that I have:

1.      I assume that systemic and personal relational forces provoke emotional reactions within me and others.

2.      I assume that, more often than not, my emotional reactivity will trump my reason, prayerfulness, and my ability to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

3.      I assume I cannot force others to believe what I believe or to live how I live. I cannot change others at all. I can only address my own life.

4.      I assume I influence others with whom I have a relationship, and that they, in turn, influence me. That influence has a moral quality which means I bear responsibility for how I go about influencing others. Therefore, I want to be as clear possible about what I think and believe and how I am communicating my position to others.

5.      I assume that all truth is God’s truth. I want to be influenced by the truth. I want to be open to the truth regardless of the messenger. Therefore, I will encourage others to be as clear as possible about what they think and believe.

The goal is clarity. I want to be calm enough to hear clearly and then process, pray, and reflect on the truth of things. I want to be calm enough to communicate clearly so others have the chance to process, pray, and reflect on the truth of things.

I realize that clarity may not be the goal for some. Instead, winning an argument or making a point may be the goal. I do not think that approach is helpful because it can lead to more conflict and greater alienation from those who do not share my views. One may not care if that is the result, but Jesus clearly intended for his followers to work for different results in their relationships.

Some questions to ask of myself:

1. What do the statues represent to me?

·        Who shaped my views or understanding of this subject? Is this person knowledgeable on this subject? Are there any biases shaping this person’s views on this subject?

·        When were my views most influenced? What was going on in my life during those formative moments?

·        Have I been fair in the way I have thought about this subject, or can I identify the biases or prejudices influencing me?

·        What emotions do I feel when this subject comes up? Are these emotions helpful?

·        Have I applied relevant biblical truths to this matter?

·        Have I spent time praying about this matter?

·        Am I able state clearly and concisely my thoughts on this matter?

2. What do the statues represent to those who disagree with me on this matter?

·        How well have I listened to their views?

·        Can I state their views clearly and accurately or do I make assumptions?

·        To whom am I listening? Do I allow people to speak for themselves or do I listen to people who summarize and interpret the views of others?

·        How well do I understand the backgrounds and experiences of those who disagree with me?

·        What emotions do I feel when I hear opposing views? Are these emotions helpful?

·        How fair and Christ-like have I been with the views of others?

·        Have I applied relevant biblical truths to the opposing views?

·        Have I prayed about the opposing views?

·        Is there any truth in the opposing views I need to grapple with, regardless of how painful it may be?

3. Are my words and actions helpful in achieving clarity and understanding?
Not agreement, necessarily, but clarity and understanding. Agreement might be a result of clarity, but it may also be clear that there are many points of disagreement. Either way, agreement or disagreement should be over the content of specific issues and not the result of my emotional reactivity.

Why does this matter? Why would I go to so much effort? My natural tendency is to seek out the company of those who believe, think, and live as I do. In their presence I feel safe and comfortable. Our relationships are familiar, maybe routine. There is nothing out of the ordinary to threaten my comfort or the stability of our relational system (family, church, civic group, friendships, etc.). As I seek the comfort of this group I, at the same time, alienate myself from people and ideas that might pose a threat. Intentionally or unintentionally, I may become closed off, closed-minded, or uninformed. As a result, I may mistrust and fear everything and everyone with which I am unfamiliar.

Jesus urges me to have a different approach to those people who may oppose me, my ideas, my beliefs, and everything I stand for as a Christian or an American. I recognize this is the way in which Jesus approached me while I was his enemy because of my sin. The fact that he has forgiven me and reconciled me to God means that it is possible I can be an instrument of reconciliation with others. I believe most Christians understand these truths, but also acknowledge their difficulty. It is far easier to simply love those who are like me, and maybe even feel right or justified in doing so.

In his book Lee: The Last Years, Charles Bracelen Flood reports that after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, "Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it."

I wonder what guidance Lee would offer our country today?


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