Beyond Innocence and Ignorance: Practitioners of Reconciliation in an Age of Racism

Growing up as child, one of my favorite shows to watch was the Dukes of Hazzard which aired on CBS television from 1979 through 1985. That should come as no surprise. After all, not only did I think of Bo and Luke Duke as two cool dudes but they also drove one of the coolest cars ever, a ’69 Dodge Charger known as The General Lee. As for Daisy Duke… I was too young to care one bit about her short-shorts and cleavage. Later on, as an adult, I never had any interest in seeing the 2005 Film titled The Dukes of Hazzard but I have on occasion enjoyed a little childhood nostalgia by watching an occasional rerun of the show.

Innocence and Ignorance

For the sake of disclosure… I am white and I am a Christian trying to follow Jesus. I was born in Arkansas and raised in a small Indiana town by two working-class Christian parents, and I am comfortably in my element among southern and midwestern cultures. I share my little history with The Dukes of Hazzard because unless you have been hiding out somewhere deep in a cave, then you are aware of the controversy surrounding this show now. On June 17, 2015 a mass-shooting occurred at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine Christians dead. The killer, driven by racist motives, intentionally targeted black people. In addition to the discovery of the killer’s racist manifesto, photos surfaced of the killer waving a Confederate Flag… surely as a symbol of his racism and hatred for black people.

Consequently the Confederate Flag has come under scrutiny, with various states and business seeking to remove any display of the Confederate Flag. Ergo, the decision of TV Land to cease airing reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard. Of course, like so many other issues of our day, this has become a political controversy with people taking sides. Some are for the Confederate Flag, claiming that it simply represents southern heritage while others, like myself, won’t shed a tear over its loss because they see it for what it is… a symbol of racism.

Caught up in this issue is The Dukes of Hazzrd. Is the show simply a portrayal of a couple of good ole’ boys living their down-home southern country life or does it also represent an era full of racism that was sanctioned by southern state power? As a child, I was oblivious to any of the cultural meaning this show symbolized. I watched the show purely for entertainment, imagining myself as Bo and Luke Duke driving around in a cool muscle car. When I watched The Dukes of Hazzard, I was innocent but I was also ignorant.

Let me expand on this innocence and ignorance a bit more. At ten years old I knew very little about slavery and racism. I certainly didn’t know that for all the good things one might say about southern culture, that there was a horrible history of oppression inflicted upon black people that still lived on in the minds and values of some people. It’s the same way with The Andy Griffith Show. For all the good qualities we might make about the fictional town of Mayberry, in real life most of those good qualities existed only for white people. As I have written about before, I doubt many, if any at all, black people want to go back to the era of America that gave us Mayberry… “Not when being black meant being forced to ride at the back of the bus, not having the right to vote, and even being lynched.”

Reconciliation Trumps Politics

It’s the year 2015 and in less than a month I will turn forty-two. I am neither innocent nor ignorant anymore and neither are you. I am more and more aware of the ways in which I have helped sustain racism in America (read this personal story I share here) and I am more and more aware of the oppressive racism that still exists today. Further more, you may claim if you like that the Confederate Flag simply represents southern heritage… that it isn’t a symbol of racism but that is just a flat out denial of the truth! The Confederate Flag has always symbolized racism and white pride which is exactly why the Klu Klux Klan has always carried it and why Dylan Roof so proudly waved this flag for the camera.

I won’t lose any sleep if I never see another car chase involving the General Lee. It’s the same with the removal of the Confederate Flag. More importantly, I don’t see why you would either… especially if you are a Christian. I’m not naïve, so I don’t believe that removing the Confederate Flag from display on public properties will end racism. What I believe is that as Christians, God has called both we are called to something much more glorious than clinging to the foolish politics of supporting the Confederate Flag.

As Christians, we are called to live as participants in God’s ministry of reconciliation. In fact, at the heart of the gospel is God’s work of reconciling all people as one in Christ. That is, God is destroying the barriers of hostility that divide us so that we can live as neighbors rather than enemies (cf. Eph 2:13-14). So even if I wanted to, I won’t wave around the Confederate Flag because I know how offensive that might be to my black friends and neighbors… Because I believe that the ministry of reconciliation trumps politics everyday and that means valuing a relationship with people over seeing a Confederate Flag on display when I visit the south. To say otherwise and to value preserving the Confederate Flag over pursuing reconciliation with with people, including neighbors of different race, ethnicity, etc…, puts us in opposition to the work of God. Woe be to anyone who opposes God!

Moving Forward

If you care, and as a Christian you should, go talk to your neighbors, especially those who are different than you. Speak to those who believe differently, have a different skin color, talk in a different language, and so forth. More importantly, listen to what they are saying. Listen and learn! Listen to their stories. That’s when you will begin to hear the nuances of how systematic racism is still at work, which is necessary if our society ever hopes of bringing justice to this issue. But more importantly, when you listen, you’ll begin let go of those things that may divide you from your neighbor and in turn learn how to love them as yourself.

That’s the way forward because that is what the future will be when Christ returns. There won’t be any flag, not even an American flag, nor any racism or the symbols that holds on to those broken politics. If you want to participate in the new life that God is bringing about in Christ, then clinch not to the politics of the old dying world but live fully as practitioners of reconciliation by loving God as you love your neighbors as yourself.

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12 responses to “Beyond Innocence and Ignorance: Practitioners of Reconciliation in an Age of Racism

  1. I think we should ban all TV shows, disable the networks, have TV burnings etc. Maybe if we had to get out of our houses and communicate with people, even people of another color, our world could be much better.

  2. Ministers of reconciliation requires peacemakers. Peacemaking involves hearing and understanding many facets of a discussion, not just one or two facets. Peacemaking requires all sides to move from their comfort zones closer to one another. Slavery, particularly American slavery, has NEVER been purely racist as some would have you believe. If it had, there would be a lot less guilt to go around for all the Irish and Lithuanian and natives who were enslaved along with others, and for much early American history in greater numbers than slaves with darker skin from Africa. Even today’s international slave trade is not exclusively racist. It is an economics trade … and it is an equal opportunity crime – claiming a premium for white and blonde slaves, both male and female, but predominantly female.

    Failure to acknowledge the full range of enslaved people’s IS ignorance, because racist motivations were only ever a part or piece of the whole, and never the whole picture. And slavery has only ever been a part, just one facet, of racism … just as oppression is evident in nearly every color of people the world over, and most often oppression by a same-race person.

  3. I hesitate to post this because I don’t want to be misread or misinterpreted but I feel like it should be said so here we go…

    I grew up in St. Louis and then in Alabama. I found far more racism in St. Louis than I did in Alabama. What is more there is a portion of people in the South who view the Confederate flag as part of southern culture and make zero connection to racism. You cannot equate the flag for racism for all those who enjoy the Confederate flag. There are people today who don’t make that connection at all and very much enjoy the confederate flag. I am not sharing my feelings pro or con or whatever…just describing what I have observed.

    Next, most people were racist in the mid 1800s, including the North. Abraham Lincoln isn’t free from this either…it was just the way Whites viewed the world in that day. Let me demonstrate,

    “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.” – Abraham Lincoln in the Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858
    (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, pp. 145-146.)

    Racism was a part of the culture of America at that time, not confined to the South. Few actually get off the hook here if we take an objective look at things (if that is even possible). We could just as easily assign the value of racism to the American flag as anything else. I am not calling for that…I am saying by the same standard the Confederate flag has been blasted by its misuse and abuse by crazy people one could just as easily say the same of the American flag. Again, not calling for that…just showing that if you apply the standard evenly you end up in some strange places and I don’t find many people applying their standards and conclusions evenly. Our biases and blinders prevent us from doing that…and I have them too. That should cause us to be cautious and humble.

    Last, there have been nut cases who have killed people in the name of the Bible including Hitler but no one is pushing for the Bible to be removed because people twist it up and do horrible things with it. Again, apply your standard evenly and you may find out the standard is flawed.

    All that to say – this is a complex issue and one that we have to be very careful making broad generalities and value judgments of others on. We need to try to be patient and understanding with each other and where we see racism, injustice, etc be the first to call it for what it is.

    I have no interest in the confederate flag but I do think we have to be careful when we start pulling things from circulation because, again, our standards may be skewed and end us up in some unintended places down the road.

    • Matt,

      Thanks for the comment. As one who has lived in both southern and northern states, I agree that racism is a problem everywhere and the northern states don’t have any ground upon which to look down upon the southern states for their history of racism.

      As far as removing the Confederate Flag goes, I think you’re misunderstanding me (or perhaps I’m not communicating clearly enough). I’m not pushing for the removal of the Confederate Flag, though I am happy to see it go. What I am pushing against is Christians who would place defending the Confederate Flag, which is a symbol of racism (at least to some) above pursuing racial reconciliation. That is, there are some Christians who are more worried about preserving the Confederate Flag than they are with mending the racial division that still exists in America. To me, that is a failure of the gospel since Christians are called to participate in God’s ministry of reconciliation rather than defend a heritage that belongs to the old life that God is redeeming us from in Christ.

      I hope that clarifies where I stand.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      • I agree with that. That can certainly be a problem. We cannot live under the illusion that taking down a flag fixes hearts. That is far more difficult work that will require far more time and energy than raising or lowering a flag.

      • Exactly! No law or policy can do what a heart that is changed by God can do.

  4. The Confederate Flag is not a symbol of racism, it is a symbol of independence. A symbol of independence from the real racists in Washington.

    • Bernard,

      Thank you for your comment! However, you are wrong about the symbolic nature of the Confederate Flag. Regarding the second design of the Confederate Flag and its white stainless banner, designer William T. Thomson said, “As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” That is racism! And it portrays the Confederate Flag as a symbol of racism, which is why the KKK carried that flag and why Dylann Roof waved that flag.

  5. If conservative denominations, such as the Church of Christ, do not stress and shake the hearts of their people to beyond the symbols of racism and the shallow bellows of “Heritage”, they will cease to be an effective voice in this nation. The only ones listening will be the few in the pew who will continue to fantasize that the world fears and stands in awe of them.

  6. Another point. I know too many conservative Christians, who, if they found themselves in a room with Christians of color, would shake their hand, hug them, call them brother and sister, tell them that they love them and that they are one in Christ; then leave still believing that whites are superior in intellect, culture and leadership, only to become angry at any hint from another that this makes them racist. The mind and body of Christ will most certainly leave these behind.

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