How faith brought down the flag

Race Issues
by Jarvis J. Williams

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2015, at 6:06 pm

On Friday, South Carolina made history when state officials lowered the Confederate flag that flew on the grounds of the state Capitol for years. This flag reminded many of racial hatred directed toward Africa-Americans through the years. The superb leadership of Gov. Nikki Haley and the collegial support of the state’s elected officials helped efforts to retire the flag. But those efforts were buoyed by the Christian responses to the shootings of Walter Scott and the Emanuel 9.

These tragedies could have led to violent riots in Charleston, S.C., much like the ones we saw in Ferguson and Baltimore. Judy Scott, whose son was shot in the back by a white North Charleston cop in early April, and the family members of the nine people killed last month at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church explicitly demonstrated their Christian faith in interviews and in their offers of forgiveness to the men charged with murdering their loved ones. They also urged others to pursue forgiveness and peace.

The family members of the Emanuel 9 confronted accused killer Dylann Roof in a courtroom, only hours after their families members had died, urging him to repent and trust in Christ. Members of Mother Emanuel further demonstrated their faith a week after the shooting when hundreds showed up for a Bible study in the same room where their pastor and eight other parishioners perished.

The city’s political leaders, police, and other officials deserve much credit for keeping the Charleston community informed and safe after these shootings. These leaders also deserve credit for quickly pursuing justice for the victims’ families. But Charleston could have gone up in flames if not for responses of believers.

Support for Mother Emanuel from various Christian denominations—within and outside of Charleston and representing different races—is a testament to the power of the gospel and to the way the members at Mother Emanuel personified Jesus’ teaching about racial reconciliation. And perhaps, most shockingly, their faith unified many political leaders from rival political parties to pursue efforts to take down the Confederate flag at the Capitol. Many white supremacist groups, and individuals like Roof, used the flag as a symbol of hate, reminding many African-Americans of black oppression.

But on Friday, the Confederate flag was respectfully lowered from its public perch and taken to a museum to be displayed as an artifact of history. Perhaps history will credit this achievement to Gov. Haley and various state politicians. In my view, though, the Christian faith of Judy Scott, the families of the Emanuel 9, and the members of Mother Emanuel, displayed in their acts of forgiveness, defeated the hatred represented in that flag and were the primary instruments of racial reconciliation. 

Jarvis J. Williams

Jarvis is associate professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a former WORLD contributor.

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