Heritage, not Hate??

(The photos in the blog are essential. Study them. They show the historical meaning of the flag). I grew up in the South (Alabama). I have lived in the centers of “Southern culture” like New Orleans and as deep South as you can get in Grenada, MS.

I have plunged the depths of the South from elementary school to high school to college to campfires and the beaches from Florida to Texas. I am deeply proud of the South and its very unique and surprisingly diverse cultural gifts it has shared with the United States. See my blog Southern Heritage to Be Proud of …

I know something about the South and the mythology of the Confederate battle flag. As I was growing up, Robert E. Lee brandishing a sword on horseback was on one side of my class ring and the Confederate flag was on the other. The battle flag dangled from the mirror in Nissan 4×4 pick-up in the form of a bandana. I understand people’s emotional attachments that are deeply rooted in a certain mythical retelling of the past. And I was convinced I “did not have a racist bone in my body” (I even used those exact words). I uncritically bought into those myths myself but have drifted away from those false conceptions only by conscious research into the Confederacy and what it stood for.

Have you done some dispassionate research on this matter? Without being to controversial, I ask because some of the underlying assumptions we make seem to be based on Lost Cause stereotypes that we all have drunk to the dregs unconsciously (especially the Reconstruction myths of the South promoted zealously by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind).

I got rid of the flag for biblical, theological, historical, and finally because of love. I will explore a few with you.

September 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, USA — Teenagers wave signs and confederate flags from their car during the fight over desegregating Birmingham’s public schools. — Image by © Flip Schulke/CORBIS

Sometimes Symbols Become Idols

God commanded Moses to fashion a “brazen serpent” in Numbers 21.4-9 that functioned as a type for Jesus’s crucifixion, John 3.13-15. But Hezekiah destroyed Nehushtan though it was holy and directly from God. According to the Scriptures he pleased God in doing so.

He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made for up to that time Israelites had been been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan)” (2 Kings 18.3-4, see the whole chapter).

The brazen serpent had become an idol. As ancient and revered as it was it had to be destroyed. But the fact is that the battle flag is neither holy in origin nor commanded by God. It please God for Nehushtan to be destroyed, I can only imagine his feelings on this flag.

Heritage, not Hate??
Everyone in this photograph knows the meaning of that flag. Read the Sign.

Flags Share the Meaning of the Nation they Represent, the Confederate States were Created to Preserve Racist Ideology

I do not think it can be contested that a national flag shares in the meaning of the nation that flies it. How can the Hammer and Sickle be separated from the Soviet Union. How can the Swastika be untangled from Nazi Germany? How can the Stars and Stripes not represent the United States? How can the flags of the Confederate States of America be disconnected from the nation that created them, the armies the waged war under them, and the mission of that nation as stated in its founding documents? I for one do not see how it is possible.

I’m a Good Old Rebel

The flag, like the nation for which it stood, is an exclusively white race flag. It is the symbol of the Confederate States of America and there is no way to get around this with integrity. The old song, “I’m a Good Old Rebel” captures unapologetically what it was all about.

Oh, I’m a good old rebel
Now thats just what I am
And for this yankee nation
I do no give a damn
I’m glad I fought against her
I only wish we’d won
I ain’t asked any pardon
For anything I’ve done
I hates the Yankee nation
And everything they do
I hates the declaration
Of independence too
I hates the glorious union
‘Tis dripping with our blood

I hates the striped banner
And fought it all I could
I rode with Robert E. Lee
For three years there about …
Oh, I’m a good old rebel
Now that’s just what I am
And for this Yankee nation
I do no give a damn
I’m glad I fought against her
I only wish we’d won
I ain’t asked any pardon”

Is it possible to misunderstand these words?

William Tappan Thompson

If “Good Old Rebel” fails to communicate then perhaps a talk with William Tappan Thompson, the man who designed the official flag for the CSA, will shed some light.

As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.” (The complete text of both this and subsequent words on the flag by Thompson can be read in James W. Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ about the ‘Lost Cause, pp. 194-197).

South Carolina’s December 25, 1860 Slavery Invitation

On December 25, 1860, South Carolina had already seceded from the Union. Her delegates in convention extended this invitation to the slave holding states to form a confederacy. The document is long and I omitted all of the first half. The first half argues that the Colonies of 1776 provide precedent for rights of secession. The second half attempts to show what the essential grounds that call for such radical action in 1860. Near the end of the address you will note the words “TO BE ONE OF A GREAT SLAVE HOLDING CONFEDERACY.”

Citizens of the slaveholding States of the United States! Circumstances beyond our control, have placed us in the van of the great controversy between the Northern and Southern States. We would have preferred, that other States should have assumed the position we now occupy. Independent ourselves, we disclaim any design or desire, to lead the councils of the other Southern States. Providence has cast our lot together, by extending over us an identity of pursuits, interests and institutions. South Carolina, desires no destiny, separate from yours. To be one of a great Slave holding Confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any power in Europe possesses …”

You can read the entire text of South Carolina’s call for the creation of a “great slave holding Confederacy” here Address of South Carolina to Slave Holding States, December 25, 1860.

How can the flag of the nation created for the purpose of slavery not share in the meaning of the nation that created the flag?

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861. This about 3 weeks before the Confederacy started the war by firing on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Cornerstone speech was a famous speech. And it is as clear as a bell. He knew, like the South Carolina invitation a few months previously, exactly what the nation stood for that flew that flag. In the excerpt, Stephens has just referred to the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and repudiates it. You will recall in “Good Old Rebel” the line that said, “I hates the declaration of Independence.” The Confederate States of America was a repudiation of the United States of America and its own flag.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [i.e. all men created equal as found in the Declaration, BV]; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

Stephen’s speech should be required reading of every American. Stephen’s was unashamed in his proclamation. You can read the entire text of the Cornerstone Speech here, Alexander H. Stephens, Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861.

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America

What the Confederate flag stood for is the Constitution of the nation it represented, the Confederate States of America. The Constitution that flag represents is stunningly clear.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 prohibited the Confederate government from restricting slavery in any way:

“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

Please note the Constitution is explicit, “property in negro slaves.” It is not property in white slaves but only black.

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1 also prohibited states from interfering with slavery:

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 addresses escaped slaves:

No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs; or to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3 offered to slavery in all future territories conquered or acquired by the Confederacy:

The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”

This provision ensured the perpetuation of slavery as long and as far as the Confederate States could extend it’s political reach, and more then a few Confederates had their eyes fixed on Cuba and other places for future expansion (Manifest Destiny was not limited to the North).

Slavery was the heart, soul, and the very reason for the existence of the Confederacy. The flag of that nation represents its national values. Its values are literally in black and white.

1948 Dixiecrat Convention, Birmingham, Alabama. The party was created to oppose Truman’s civil right’s agenda and the preservation of white supremacy. The Confederate flag was the official symbol of the party. Its meaning was not disputed by anyone.

The Confederate Flag and the Civil Rights Movement

It is common to find white Southerns (I am one) that claim the flag is heritage not racism. How can the flag be divorced from the nation that flew it? How can it be disconnected for its reason for existence? But the claim makes no sense at all. If you asked Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1870 what that heritage was he would be stunningly clear. If you asked Dr. Moody on April 26, 1903 at the dedication of the Confederate Memorial in Florence, Al, the meaning of heritage was stated explicitly. No one disconnected the meaning of the flag from being a white man’s flag until contemporary times.

In 1948, Harry S. Truman was nominated as the Democratic candidate. Truman adopted a plank in his platform the demand of civil rights for African Americans. Thirty-five Southern delegates withdrew from the Democratic Convention and formed the counter party called The State’s Rights Democratic Party or popularly known as Dixiecrats. They held their convention in Birmingham, Alabama calling for the preservation of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy. They adopted the Confederate flag as their official party symbol. The flag was certainly heritage, the heritage of white supremacy. The Dixiecrats knew it and so did everyone else.

The meaning of the flag was not hidden. The State of Georgia incorporated the battle flag into the state flag in 1956 as a reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown decision. The Georgia Assembly made a statement in support of “segregation and white supremacy.”

The State of South Carolina did not fly the Confederate flag over its State House until June 21, 1961. The flag was not raised over the Alabama State House until April 25, 1963 by George C. Wallace in the face of a visit by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

The flag was used from the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement as a symbol of segregation and white supremacy. No one ever claimed, from the 1860s to the Civil Rights Movement, that the flag was anything but a white man’s flag representing a white man’s government.

The claim that the flag is not deeply enmeshed in white supremacy ideology is disingenuous.

James Coski

James Coski is the Historian and Library Director at The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, his is also considered to be one of the leading historical authorities on the Battle Flag. Coski wrote that the Stars and Bars (the CSA’s first official flag) was renounced precisely because it too closely resembled the Stars and Strips of the United States. So when the committee of the Congress of the CSA met to consider flags, “the foremost consideration influencing the committee was that the new flag not resemble any other nation.” What was needed was a symbol “of our absolute severance from the United States and complete separation.” James M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (p.15). The flag is, from the beginning, the “anti-USA” flag.


I can guarantee you that the vast majority of people of color do not think the Confederate flag is a matter of “southern pride.” I have never had a discussion with an African American about the Confederate flag in which he or she was neutral about it. I understand why they see the flag as symbol of hate. The flag flew for a nation that denied their very person hood. Then the flag has been used repeatedly to deny their basic human rights. It is, like the nation that created it, a racist symbol of hate. That is the “heritage.” I have no pride, as southerner, for the heritage that flag represents.


In June NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from its races. Also in June, the State of Mississippi dropped the Confederate emblem from the state flag when Republican Governor Tate Reeves signed legislation pushed by a coalition of representatives, see Mississippi Officially Removes Confederate Emblem from State Flag in Time. These are positive moves for which we are grateful but it should never have been there to begin with.

The Psalms Know

The Hebrew Bible, and the Psalms in particular, has a robust zest for life. Life, all life, human life, animal life, young life, old life – life – is the gift of the Creator God flowing out of God’s own Spirit (Ps 104.30, etc). Spiritual life is created life not some ethereal notion that lies only after we have died. The Hebrew Bible, especially the Psalms, also knows that alien forces bring chaos into God’s world.

These forces are real. The forces are frightening. The forces can be quite deadly. The First Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament take these forces with utmost seriousness. This is why the Psalms has many prayers regarding sickness, weakness and even enemies.

Israel’s prayers, like our own, are the epitome of “Lord we believe, help our unbelief.” We cry in faith even as we live in fear.

The Bible does not “knock” our spiritual ancestors because they, like ourselves, live with one foot in God’s kingdom that we confess is real while simultaneously with one trembling foot in the vandalized world.

The Bible recognizes that a shaking cry to the universe can be the most profound act of faith (see Psalm 88). The call (prayer) is simultaneously a confession that Yahweh is King.

During anxious times like our present, our world is anxious over COVID-19, it is legitimate to cautious. It is also proper to lay our burden of fear before the Lord. Illness – even plague – is not an unknown theme in the Hebrew Bible. So the Psalms pray for protection of ourselves and our neighbors.

I call upon you, for you will answer me,
O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.

Guard me (us) as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings


The response of God to our prayers is a call to trust him and do not be afraid. Lamentations records a memory,

I called on your name, O LORD,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea,
‘Do not close your ear to my cry
but give me relief!’
You came near when I called on you;
you said,

Do not fear!
(Lam 3.55-57)

So the Psalms pray,

I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears
” (35.3)

Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
” (20.6)

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil;
for you are with me
” (23.4)

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
” (Ps 27.1)

The Psalms recognize we do have fears. The Psalms know we do have pits we find fall in. The Psalms acknowledge that the world around us has “forces” like enemies, sickness and even death. The Psalms concede we are anxious, stressed and loose sleep. But the Psalms, by God’s amazing grace, Psalms gives us the very words to cast our fears upon the one we call Father. The Psalms call us to pray prayers of protection from those things.

The Psalms Call Us to Know

The Psalms also call us to know that our Lord is King and we have no reason to fear. This does not mean we do practice wisdom in heeding protocols during times of anxiety. We do heed them. Our love for our neighbors is proactive in protecting them.

But the Psalms call us to know that God will see us through. Trust in him.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs
to you, O Lord
(Psalm 62.1-2,11-12)

Today, I pray for God’s protection on the Chinese, Koreans, Italians, Spanish, Iranians, Russians, Brazilians, Indians, the elderly, the poor, Republicans, Democrats, the Trumps, the Bidens, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, the people right here in San Francisco Bay, and the family at Eastside.

Today, I pray that God will enable scientists to develop vaccines for this virus. Today, I thank the Lord for the women and men who are nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and caregivers

Today I pray that we give the Lord our fears and live confidently in him.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life:
of whom shall I be afraid? …

Though an army encamp around me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple

(Psalm 27.1, 3-4)

The Psalms know. The Psalms want us to know.

Dylann Roof

I wrote this five years ago, on June 23, 2015, after Dylann Roof massacred black Christians as they prayed. I find it as relevant, and perhaps more so, than I did when I wrote it. We are in the exact same place on most of the matters in this post.

The massacre of nine black Christians in worship, at Emanuel AME Church, by the white terrorist Dylann Roof, has been on my mind. Roof, according to his own testimony, chose that church because of its symbolic history and value. Since then there has been continued debate over history, our attachment to a certain heritage and being part of God’s New Creation.

One side, that I strongly disagree with, has again started the old myth that the Civil War was not really about slavery, therefore “the flag” is not about slavery or racism. Some, frankly, do not care what the historical record actually says.

But South Carolina waxes eloquently in her Declaration of Secession on Dec 24, 1860, on Southern grievances regarding the North on the matter of slavery (all mentioned explicitly). These grievances had been building for some time. The Declaration states point blank,

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common government … A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of the President of the United States who opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

After the laundry list of perceived attacks upon slavery South Carolina moved to withdraw from the Union.

There is no way, on God’s green earth, as my mom used to say, any one can read SC’s Declaration, or any of the other States, that followed and not know that slavery was the engine driving conflict and the rock that broke it all.

But what about that 25 years stuff South Carolina mentioned …? In reality slavery was a bone of contention from 1776 to the framing of the Constitution to the “Gag Rule” enforced by slave states in the 1830s.

There was never a time when slavery was not the cause of violence, oppression, sectional strife, constant threats of secession, and slave revolts in the US prior to the Civil War. But in that 25 year period, if you read American history with any attention to detail from 1830ish to 1861 you see the “irrepressible conflict” in America. Look at these events.

1820: Missouri Compromise demonstrates early the death grip of slavery on the USA

1822: Denmark Vesey, free black man and founder of what is now Emanuel AME Church (that Roof attacked) organized a slave revolt. He was “outed” and hung with 35 slaves.

1829: David Walker, free black man, published Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Powerful work. Influenced William Loyd Garrison. South reacted by regulating the press and distribution of books and literature (so much for the free press).

1831: William Loyd Garrison begins publication of The Liberator (which was promptly banned in Southern states)

1831: Nat Turner, slave and preacher in Virginia, leads a revolution. Turner is captured and killed. The revolt was like an earthquake in the South. He was hanged, flayed and beheaded as an example to everyone especially slaves.

1832: Thomas Drew published Review of a Debate. This was a huge influence on the necessity of maintaining slavery in the South.

1833: American Anti-Slavery Society forms

1833 British Empire outlaws slavery

1834: college students at Lane Seminary revolt over the issue of slavery

1836: Gag Rule in Congress

1837: South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun (one of the most influential politicians in the US) insists that “Abolition and Union cannot coexist”

1837: Elijah Lovejoy, newspaper publisher and abolitionist, is murdered defending his press against mob violence in Alton, Illinois. Sends shock waves rippled thru the nation on both sides. People are willing to kill white people on this matter. A young Abraham Lincoln is stirred to the quick.

1837: Presbyterians split in the first north vs south denominational conflict over slavery

1830s: The Underground Railroad begins as Christians engage in civil disobedience led by Harriet Tubman. This is a major thorn in the side of the South.

1839: Amistad Supreme Court case argued by John Quincy Adams to the dismay of slave holders.

1840: the founding of the Liberty Party with an anti-slavery platform

1843: Southern Baptists split on the rock of slavery and form a separate convention

1845: Frederick Douglass publishes his Narrative

1845: The US annexes Texas as a slave state

1845: Methodist church splits on slavery. Southerners from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South

1848: War with Mexico over Texas

1850: Fugitive Slave Law & Compromise of 1850 (this was a hugely controversial law that forced Northerners to participate in Slavery).

1852: Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book that began the war as Lincoln opined. The book is banned and burned in the South.

1854: Kansas-Nebraska Act

1855-6: the “bleeding of Kansas.” Attack upon Lawrence and John Brown leads attack against proslavery settlers in Pottawatomi. The Civil War is on before the secession of South Carolina.

1855: James Shannon, a Disciples preacher, addresses the Missouri Pro-Slavery Convention, proclaims that his right to own a black person is not only worth dividing the Union over but going to war over.

1857: Dred Scott Decision seals the deal on the inevitable war.

1858: Lincoln-Douglas debates (if you have never read them do so because they lay to rest the myth that Lincoln somehow was not against slavery)

1859: Raid on Harpers Ferry and the hanging of John Brown.

1860: election of Abraham Lincoln and secession of South Carolina before Lincoln takes office.

1861: Other states join South Carolina in secession. Ratification of Constitution of the Confederacy guarantees the right to own slaves and white supremacy. Alexander Stevenson, VP of the CSA, delivers the Cornerstone Speech, the Southern government is founded upon the principle that men are not created equal and that Negros are by design inferior to whites. Confederacy starts war by firing the Star of the West on January 9, 1861 and then on Ft Sumter on April 12, 1861.

These are just the bare bones of those twenty-five years of agitation the Confederates mention in their grievances against the United States. Had there been no slavery the War would never have have happened. The participants knew this as they were doing it. They were willing to fight to the death on this supposed right to own a black human being.

I love Civil War history like many people. But there was a side that was right and there was a side that was wrong.

I am glad that the Nazis lost.
I am glad the Confederacy lost.

With 150 years of hindsight we should be able to say without equivocation that the Confederacy, its reason for secession, its reason for existence, its constitution, its symbols belong to a time long ago and should be left in the history books, the museums and not romanticized and held up as something “good.” They are not “good.”

Slavery, based upon white supremacy, was the issue driving every other issue.

I thank God it was defeated. The flags of the Confederacy are genetically connected to the values, aspirations and aims of the the explicit and stated purposes of the Confederates States of America as surely as the Swastika and Hammer and Sickle are inseparable from the governments they represented.

They do not represent my values, nor what I understand the Bible’s values to be, in any fashion. To say that all men are created equal is our corner stone is true. But the corner stone of the CSA is the denial of that proposition in explicit and express words.

The Confederate States were founded upon the confession that all men are NOT created equal. Alexander Stephen, the Vice President of the CSA, explicitly stated that black inferiority and slavery was the “Cornerstone” of the Confederacy. The flag is the visualization of the dreams of Jefferson Davis, William H. Thompson, and all the Secessionists.

I am so proud of how God’s People are coming together in South Carolina today. It is my hope and my prayer that all God’s people will do what it takes to move forward.

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) Father of Southern Secessionist Doctrine

1850. More than Ten Years before Abraham Lincoln was elected, John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was not only at the end of his long political career but his life. He was regarded as one of the greatest of Southern statesman of the day from South Carolina. He had served as congressman, Senator and Vice President of the USA. He was a leading architect for the notion that the South had the right to secession to protect its white supremacist “way of life.” In 1837 he had proclaimed slavery as a “positive good” (a fundamental tenant of the religion of the Lost Cause. Follow the link to read Calhoun’s “Positive Good.”)

Calhoun’s last speech read to the Senate by James Mason because he was to frail to do it himself was on the “The Cause by Which the Union is Endangered” was delivered on March 4, 1850. Calhoun had already proclaimed as early as 1838 that “Abolition and Union” cannot co-exist. Again, for those that vainly imagine that slavery was not the primary issue of issues are simply wrong. Calhoun briefly mentions the “South” being excluded from certain territory and tax distribution. The former the South was not actually excluded rather slavery was banned from expanding into certain territory. And the taxes were mingled with the slavery issue as well (the north had more people than the south). I will quote from Calhoun and he will tell us just what the danger to the Union was … ELEVEN YEARS BEFORE ABRAHAM LINCOLN was elected.

A Navy submarine was named for this man. Statues are dedicated to him. Thankfully on June 24, 2020, South Carolina took down his idol in Charleston. See Charleston Removes a Statue of Slavery Defender and Former Vice-President John C. Calhoun. 1850 would see the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the “Compromise of 1850” which forced citizens of non-slave holding states to engage in slavery.

John C. Calhoun was never a person that should have been honored with a statue in the first place, he was so honored because he was the embodiment of the racist ideals of the society he represented. Some historians have called him “the man who started the Civil War.” He was willing to go to war for the “right” to own a human being … but Calhoun did not believe African Americans were created in the image of God.

“John C. Calhoun, Senator from South Carolina to the U.S. Senate, March 4, 1850: THE CAUSES BY WHICH THE UNION IS ENDANGERED”

“I have, Senators, believed from the first that the agitation of the subject of slavery would, if not prevented by some timely and effective measure, end in disunion. Entertaining this opinion, I have, on all proper occasions, endeavored to call the attention of both the two great parties which divide the country to adopt some measure to prevent so great a disaster, but without success. The agitation has been permitted to proceed, with almost no attempt to resist it, until it has reached a point when it can no longer be disguised or denied that the Union is in danger. You have thus had forced upon you the greatest and the gravest question that can ever come under your consideration — How can the Union be preserved? To give a satisfactory answer to this mighty question, it is indispensable to have an accurate and thorough knowledge of the nature and the character of the cause by which the Union is endangered. Without such knowledge it is impossible to pronounce, with any certainty, by what measure it can be saved; just as it would be impossible for a physician to pronounce, in the case of some dangerous disease, with any certainty, by what remedy the patient could be saved, without similar knowledge of the nature and character of the cause which produced it. The first question, then, presented for consideration, in the investigation I propose to make, in order to obtain such knowledge, is — What is it that has endangered the Union?

Calhoun’s statue coming down

“To this question there can be but one answer, — that the immediate cause is the almost universal discontent which pervades all the States composing the Southern section of the Union. This widely-extended discontent is not of recent origin. It commenced with the agitation of the slavery question, and has been increasing ever since. The next question, going one step further back, is — What has caused this widely diffused and almost universal discontent?

“It is a great mistake to suppose, as it is by some, that it originated with demagogues, who excited the discontent with the intention of aiding their personal advancement, or with the disappointed ambition of certain politicians, who resorted to it as the means of retrieving their fortunes. On the contrary, all the great political influences of the section were arrayed against excitement, and exerted to the utmost to keep the people quiet The great mass of the people of the South were divided, as in the other section, into Whigs and Democrats. The leaders and the presses of both parties in the South were very solicitous to prevent excitement and to preserve quiet; because it was seen that the effects of the former would necessarily tend to weaken, if not destroy, the political ties which united them with their respective parties in the other section. Those who know the strength of party ties will readily appreciate the immense force which this cause exerted against agitation, and in favor of preserving quiet. But, great as it was, it was not sufficient to prevent the wide-spread discontent which now pervades the section. No; some cause, far deeper and more powerful than the one supposed, must exist, to account for discontent so wide and deep. The question then recurs — What is the cause of this discontent? It will be found in the belief of the people of the Southern States, as prevalent as the discontent itself, that they cannot remain, as things now are, consistently with honor and safety, in the Union. The next question to be considered is — What has caused this belief? One of the causes is, undoubtedly, to be traced to the long-continued agitation of the slave question on the part of the North, and the many aggression’s which they have made on the rights of the South during the time …

Remini’s fine study of Henry Clay’s desperate attempt to save the Union in 1850

“The first of the series of acts by which the South was deprived of its due share of the territories, originated with the confederacy which preceded the existence of this Government. It is to be found in the provision of the ordinance of 1787. Its effect was to exclude the South entirely from that vast and fertile region which lies between the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, now embracing five States and one territory. The next of the series is the Missouri compromise, which excluded the South from that large portion of Louisiana which lies north of 36” 30′, excepting what is included in the State of Missouri. The last of the series excluded the South from the whole of the Oregon Territory. All these, in the slang of the day, were what are called slave territories, and not free soil; that is, territories belonging to slave holding powers and open to the emigration of masters with their slaves. By these several acts, the South was excluded from 1,238,025 square miles – an extent of country considerably exceeding the entire valley of the Mississippi …

“As, then, the North has the absolute control over the Government, it is manifest, that on all questions between it and the South, where there is a diversity of interests, the interest of the latter will be sacrificed to the former, however oppressive the effects may be; as the South possesses no means by which it can resist, through the action of the Government. But if there was no question of vital importance to the South, in reference to which there was a diversity of views between the two sections, this state of things might be endured, without the hoard of destruction to the South. But such is not the fact. There is a question of vital importance to the Southern section, in reference to which the views and feelings of the two sections are as opposite and hostile as they can possibly be.

I refer to the relation between the races in the Southern Section, which constitutes a vital portion of her social organization. Every portion of the North entertains views and feelings more or less hostile to it. Those most opposed and hostile, regard it as a sin, and consider themselves under the most sacred obligation to use every effort to destroy it. Indeed, to the extent that they conceive they have power; they regard themselves as implicated in the sin, and responsible for not suppressing it by the use of all and every means. Those less opposed and hostile, regard it as a crime – an offence against humanity, as they call it; and, although not so fanatical, feel themselves bound to use all efforts to effect the same object; while those who are least opposed and hostile, regard it as a blot and a stain on the character of what they call the Nation, and feel themselves accordingly bound to give it no countenance or support. On the contrary, the Southern situation regards the relation as one which cannot be destroyed without subjecting the two races to the greatest calamity, and the section to poverty, desolation, and wretchedness; and accordingly they feel bound, by every consideration of interest and safety, to defend it.

The “Slave Power”

This hostile feeling on the part of the North towards the social organization of South long lay dormant, but it only required some cause to act on those who felt most intensely that they were responsible for its continuance, to call it into action. The increasing power of this Government, and of the control of the Northern section over all its departments furnished the cause. It was this which made an impression on the minds of many, that there was little or no restraint to prevent the Government from doing whatever it might choose to do. This was sufficient of itself to put the most fanatical portion of the North in action, for the purpose of destroying the existing relation between the two races in the South.

The first organized movement towards it commenced in 1835. Then, for the first time, societies were organized, presses established, lecturers sent forth to excite the people of the North, and incendiary publications scattered over the whole South, through the mail. The South was thoroughly aroused. Meetings were held everywhere, and resolutions adopted, calling upon the North to apply a remedy to arrest the threatened evil, and pledging themselves to adopt measures for their own protection, if it was not arrested. At the meeting of Congress, petitions poured in from the North, calling upon Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and to prohibit, what they called, the internal slave trade between the States – announcing at the same time, that their ultimate object was to abolish slavery, not only in the District, but in the States and throughout the Union. At this period, the number engaged in the agitation was small, and possessed little or no personal influence …

“As for myself, I believed at that early period, if the party who got up the petitions should succeed in getting Congress to take jurisdiction, that agitation would follow, and that it would in the end, if not arrested, destroy the Union. I then so expressed myself in debate, and called upon both parties to take grounds against assuming jurisdiction; but in vain. Had my voice been heeded, and had Congress refused to take jurisdiction, by the united votes of all parties, the agitation which followed would have been prevented, and the fanatical zeal that gives impulse to the agitation, and which has brought us to our present perilous condition, would have become extinguished, from the want of fuel to feed the flame. That was the time for the North to have shown her devotion to the Union; but, unfortunately, both of the great parties of that section were so intent on obtaining or retaining party ascendancy, that all other considerations were overlooked or forgotten.

Calhoun detested the Abolition Movement. He did not believe in freedom of speech. His vitriolic denunciations of the movement against slavery – agitators – sounds strangely contemporary.

“What has since followed are but natural consequences. With the success of their first movement, this small fanatical party began to acquire strength; and with that, to become an object of courtship to both the great parties. The necessary consequence was, a further increase of power, and a gradual tainting of the opinions of both of the other parties with their doctrines, until the infection has extended over both; and the great mass of the population of the North, who, whatever may be their opinion of the original abolition party, which still preserves its distinctive organization, hardly ever fail, when it comes to acting, to co-operate in carrying out their measures. With the increase of their influence, they extended the sphere of their action. In a short time after the commencement of their first movement, they had acquired sufficient influence to induce the legislatures of most of the Northern States to pass acts, which in effect abrogated the clause of the constitution that provides for the delivery up of fugitive slaves. Not long after, petitions followed to abolish slavery in forts, magazines, and dock-yards, and all other places where Congress had exclusive power of legislation This was followed by petitions and resolutions of legislatures of the Northern States, and popular meetings, to exclude the Southern States from all territories. acquired, or to be acquired, and to prevent the admission of any State hereafter into the Union, which, by its constitution does not prohibit slavery. And Congress is invoked to do all this, expressly with the view to the final abolition of slavery in the States. That has been avowed to be the ultimate object from the beginning of the agitation until the present time; and yet the great body of both parties of the North, with the full knowledge of the fact, although disavowing the abolitionists, have cooperated with them in almost all their measures. Such is a brief history of the agitation, as far as it has yet advanced.

“It is a great mistake to suppose that disunion can be effected by a single blow. The cords which bound these States together in one common Union, are far too numerous and powerful for that. Disunion must be the work of time. It is only through a long process, and successively, that the cords can be snapped, until the whole fabric falls asunder. Already the agitation of the slavery question has snapped some of the most important, and has greatly weakened all the others, as I shall proceed to show. … [Calhoun reviews how slavery has divided “ecclesiastical” bodies already and this is a harbinger of things to come] …

“If the agitation goes on, the same force, acting with increased intensity, as has been shown, will finally snap every cord, when nothing will be left to hold the States together except force. But, surely, that can, with no propriety of language, be called a Union, when the only means by which the weaker is held connected with the stronger portion is force. It may, indeed, keep them connected; but the connection will partake much more of the character of subjugation, on the part of the weaker to the stronger, than the union of free, independent, and sovereign States, in one confederation, as they stood in the early stages of the Government, and which only is worthy of the sacred name of Union.”

End of Speech.

John C. Calhoun, Congressman, Senator, Vice President from South Carolina in his last speech to the Senate on March 4, 1850. His thoughts are are crystal clear. And incapable of being misunderstood. Again this is eleven years before Abraham Lincoln (who wasn’t even in Congress in 1850), eleven years before Calhoun’s speech became reality in the bloody Civil War.

Over the years I have learned the value of listening to critics. Of finding someone who has a significantly different point of view than me.

I do not enjoy it, I confess.

I do not always agree with these people. But I can truthfully say I have had significant areas of my life that I was blind to opened up by those who challenge my own beliefs.

For example, I have learned a great deal about “Christianity,” and Jesus himself, from several Jews. In fact I have, at times, had to revise my own view(s) as a result of such encounters. I learned about the content and the serious matter of living “Christianly.”

When I have talked to nonbelievers, I have even learned how Christianity often “comes across” to others … and not in good ways. To use a very personal example, I never understood how unloving, ungracious and simply unChristian we sound toward the divorced until I went through it myself. Suddenly I was painfully aware of just how unlike Jesus much of the stuff we have said actually is. This learning process is Spiritual growth.

I recall the first time I encountered members of the “Nation of Islam” in the city of New Orleans many years ago. I did not know anything about it honestly. All I knew was the word “Islam” was attached to it.

I had no clue who Malcolm X was (I barely knew who Martin Luther King Jr was at the time!). I did not understand. But I knew he was a “Muslim” and so that was inherently bad. In the congregation I preached for, and from some of the brothers in the “inner city,” I learned some could speak favorably about Malcolm. I was extremely confused. I did some superficial investigation and my worst fears were confirmed. I just thought, Malcolm X how could anyone be a fan (much less a Christian). As I said, I honestly knew nothing about Malcolm except that he was called Malcolm X.

A few years later, I read Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice’s book, More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel in 1998. In that book, Spencer relates how his minister father, John Perkins, had been beaten and nearly killed by the police in Brandon, Mississippi. Spencer was only 16 at the time. He testified how angry he got with his father who was having a “crises in his faith. Frankly, I hoped he would conclude that the gospel and Christianity were for white folks. I hoped he would finally see the light and agree with Malcolm X” (p. 43).

There was that name.

So in 1998, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. Suddenly, I was in a world in which I was an alien. I confess Malcolm made me mad more than once. Not as mad as James Cone did however when I first read him. But I was mad and convicted at the same time.

Malcolm convinced me that, most of the time, I had no clue what I was talking about. But I thought I did. He gave me a window, a narrative, a life that allowed me to see, literally in black and white, how radically different America has been for people different than me.

Not just America, but Christianity. I have since come to believe that Malcolm is a massive “God sent” rebuke to Christianity as it has often functioned in America. I have since learned that Frederick Douglass, long before Malcolm can function in the same capacity. And before Douglass there was David Walker and his Appeal. Malcolm certainly is not friendly to white Christianity. But this is what I needed to hear, Malcolm was in fact reacting to his experience of Christianity as it was expressed among a group of people in North America.

I could denounce Malcolm, I could say Islam is wrong (and I think it is is). But making such assertions does not deal with the reason Malcolm embraced Islam over Christianity. It was “that” that not only I but so many believers simply did not want to face.

Malcolm forces us to listen to the critic. To have ears to hear. To look in the mirror. To examine ourselves and ask how do we come across. Like my Jewish teacher, Malcolm made me ask just what is Christianity and why do we do what we do if we claim a Crucified Jew as our King?

Back to the book.

It took only three pages of the Autobiography for me to have my first Muhammad Ali face punch. Here I was confronted with a black man’s reason for rejecting Christianity as it is found in America. We read on p.3:

when my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house the Klansman shouted threats to my pregnant mother warning her we better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand for my fathers spreading trouble among the good niggers.

At the time I read this, I still had virtually no idea of the bloody history of surrounding me in Grenada, MS. I still had not heard of the White Citizens Council, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the bashing of elementary school children with bats, chains and bricks in Grenada. I would learn all that though after.

Back to Malcolm. We can protest this, and I do. I want to say “but that is not Christianity.”

And yet Christianity’s apologetic is the lives of those claiming to be disciples. Here, Christianity is blatantly intertwined with white supremacy. Malcolm testifies just a short time later on p. 46,

all praise is due to Allah that I went to Boston when I did. If I hadn’t I’d probably still be a brainwashed black Christian.”

Boston is where Malcolm was arrested, spent time in prison and was converted. Christianity was, forevermore in his mind, a white man’s religion.

In 1891 there was an average of 20 brutal lynching’s per month across the Bible Belt of the United States. But for every lynching there were dozens and dozens of brutal beatings, tens of thousands of rapes of black women (most white Americans have no idea that Rosa Parks long before she refused to give up a seat on a bus had been an anti-rape crusader in Alabama), churches bombed and burned to the ground … I confess to you I grew up in Alabama and thought I was at least conversant with our history. But I was, in the epic words of Jethro Tull, “thick as a brick.”

“Good Christian” white people doing what they threatened Malcolm’s mother with. The Lynching Tree is where white Christians were crucifying Jesus … aka black men, women and children … Botham Jean, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd.

Malcolm has done something for me over the years. He helped me see something I did not understand and still don’t from an existential pov. That is anger and rage. The anger that Spencer Perkins had.

So many times what people call “black racism” is more likely simply long submerged, unresolved, frustrated anger over decades and centuries of injustice … typically done in the name of Christianity.

I think Malcolm has something to say to us. The only question is will we be brave enough enough to have ears to hear.

I believe I am a more faithful Christian because I have attempted to listen (however successfully is open to debate) Malcolm X. Malcolm forces me as a white Christian to ask myself,

“Bobby are you getting pissed off over the right stuff?”

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5.24)

He has told you, O Human, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love HESED and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8).

Let me recommend encountering Malcolm. Several years ago Denzel Washington captured the spirit of Malcolm X powerfully in Spike Lee’s film. Make a decision to watch it and perhaps even discuss it in a church group.

The blowing of the Shofar announced the
Year of the Lord’s Favor

Here is a mental exercise for us. What do you think might happen on the CofCs of all 12,000+ congregations adopted a lectionary that we all followed for 52 wks. This lectionary would focus on the expository preaching the following texts from the Torah, the former Prophets, Psalms, Prophets, Gospel and select episolary texts. All would be addressed within a single calendar year.  These texts call attention to a major, neon bright, theme in Scripture that is so frequently near the very bottom of priorities with American disciples, that of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  So lets call this A Year of Jubilee.

Jubilee is a world based upon GRACE, pure GRACE, real grace.

The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to
the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of JUBILEE,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort those who mourn ...”
(Isaiah 61.1-2)

Exodus 1, The Paranoia of the Oppressor
Exodus 2.11-23, God Sides with the Oppressed
Exodus 20.8-11 & Deuteronomy 5.12-15, Sabbath, Remembering the World that Was, Living for the World that Will Be
Exodus 23.1-13, People of God’s Reign
Leviticus 19.17-18, 33; Galatians 5.14, Love, even Aliens What the Whole Law Hangs On
Leviticus 25, Restarting the World by Erasing the Values of the Fall
Deuteronomy 10.12-21, It’s So Simple a Caveman Can Do it! The Bottom Line of What God Requires
Deuteronomy 15, Redeemed Slaves Make Good Neighbors
Deuteronomy 16.9-12; 26.1-10, Worship! Welcome the Women, the Slaves, the Poor and … the Aliens!
Ruth 1-4; Deuteronomy 23.3, God Loves, Blesses, and Uses the Legally Excluded
1 Kings 17, What the Anti-Kingdom Looks Like
Psalm 10.1-18, Praying with the Poor
Psalm 68.5-6, God of the Poor and Needy
Psalm 72.1-14, God’s Political Platform
Psalm 146.1-10, Creator and Rescuer of the Lowly
Isaiah 1.10-20, What False Worship Looks Like or Why God Does Not Hear our Songs of Praise
Isaiah 5.8-22, Its all about the Porfolio!?
Isaiah 11.1-9; Micah 4.1-3; Zechariah 9.9-10, Make John Deere’s Not Bombs or the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace
Isaiah 58.1-14, What it Looks Like when Yahweh is Our King
Jeremiah 22.13-18, Is this not to Know ME?
Jeremiah 34.8-22, JUBILEE Subverted
Ezekiel 16.49, Why God Really Nuked Sodom!
Hosea 2.16-23; 4.1-3; God’s Covenant with the Animals … Human Sin Rapes God’s Covenanted World
Amos 1.1-2.3, God’s Geneva Convention
Amos 4.1-4, Avarice, Self-Indulgence, Fat Cows
Amos 5.18-27, Churches are Full but God is not There
Micah 2.1-11, When Greed is Kosher
Micah 6.6-8, God’s Heart Values
Habakkuk 1.6-11; 3.16-17, The Enemy is God’s Servant! In Times of Fear the God’s People Live By Faith
Matthew 5.1-11, Profiles of Kingdom Citizens
Matthew 5.38-48, Love from another Kingdom
Matthew 6.7-15, On Earth as in Heaven
Matthew 25.31-40, Jesus’s Doctrine of Judgement
Luke 1.46-56, The Mother of the Son of God’s Song of Reversal
Luke 2.22-24, Jesus, the Ghetto Baby
Luke 4.16-19, JUBILEE, God’s Mission in Jesus
Luke 6.20-26, Jubilee to the Rich, Jubilee for the Lowly
Luke 10.25-37, Parable of the Good “Muslim” … Or when our Enemy is More Righteous than Ourselves
Luke 12.13-21, Rich Fool Misses Jubilee
Luke 18.18-30, What Must I do to be Saved? Embrace Jubilee!
Luke 19.1-10, Embracing Salvation the Jesus Way
Romans 12.9-21, The Poor, as a group, Constitute God’s Elect (David Lipscomb), Compete to See Who Can Honor them Most!
1 Corinthians 11.17-34, God’s Table Honors the Poor
Gal 2.7-10, Remembering the Poor, Exactly What I want to do
Ephesians 2.11-22, The Cross Destroys Nationalism and Racism by Making us One
1 Timothy 6.17-19, Command the Rich
James 2.1-13, Has Not God Chosen the Poor?
James 5.1-6, God Cares about Payday
1 Peter 1.1; 2.11-25, Aliens Stick Out like a Sore Thumb and Just Might be Treated Like Jesus
1 Peter 4.12-19, The Real Mark of a “Christian”
1 Peter 5.5-11, Suffering, the Global Fellowship of Believers
Revelation 18, Its the Economy Stupid, Or God Strikes Back by Bringing Down the Empire Because of Money

I think the kingdom of God just might break thru the dark landscape. A landscape where God’s people often have a difficult time identifying themselves primarily as the advanced guard of God’s new creation rather than as German, Russian, White, Black, Indian or “American.” These texts all function in and shape the ministry of Jesus himself. They need to shape and mold us.

Jesus is Lord of all.  He Lord of all of you and me or none of you and me. Caesar, by any name, is a pompous parody of the genuine King.

Suggested Resources

Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting

Michael Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church in the Story of God

Maria Harris, Proclaim Jubilee: A Spirituality for the 21st Century

John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding

John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission

Christopher J. H. Wright, Walking in the Ways of the Lord: The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament

Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

It is not ‘about’ me, but it does ‘include’ me.

American Christianity is highly individualistic. Some analysts have even argued that the typical western Christian thinks almost totally in terms of his or her personal relationship with God. Sin is thus also conceived in highly individualistic terms. Since sin is so conceived, salvation is also imaged in individualistic terms.

American Christianity has also drunk deeply from the well of Neo-Platonism. Neo-Platonism down grades the “physical” or “material” world as irrelevant, and likely even dangerous, to any understanding of “spirituality” and “salvation.”

When these two, individualism and Neo-Platonism, are brought together there is a profound shift in the meaning of Christianity.

What we mean by the individual today was a foreign concept to the ancients. Indeed it is in most non-Western settings even now. Sin in the Bible is much bigger than little ole me. I certainly do sin but sin is not reduced to my infractions. Likewise, salvation in the Bible is much, much, bigger than me. It includes Me but It is not about me. It is not simply “me and God,” rather it is “you, creation, me and God.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is literally cosmic in its scope because Sin is cosmic in its scope. The Gospel is good news to every thing – seen and unseen – in heaven and earth – that God through Christ Jesus created.

It is interesting that the first time the “doctrine of Justification by faith” is mentioned in the New Testament, the controversy was not about how an individual gets to live with God in eternity (rather than going to hell). The controversy was over Jews and Gentiles – racial divisions – could sit at the same table and eat. It is what some might call social, the groups of Jews and Gentiles.

Today what preachers would dismiss as a “social problem,” or even a “political problem,” the apostle Paul said was the heart of the Gospel itself. The Gospel did not simply change my personal relationship with God but changed our relationship to one another.

The table in Galatians 2 is almost certainly not a booth at McDonald’s but communion itself – the shared meal of the family of God – which was an actual full blown meal in the first century. Peter is condemned because his social interaction with a Gentile was not according to the “truth of the Gospel.”

Paul’s whole interpretation of the Gospel can be found conveniently in Ephesians 1-3 and Romans 8. I encourage you to read these texts repeatedly. English is often our enemy because we typically understand the word “you” that occurs in the texts through our individualism. That is Paul is talking about me. But the terms are not singular rather they are plurals. So when we come to that “you” we need to read “all yall” (as they say in Alabama). That is the text is about us, the group. The texts are communal and corporate.

In Ephesians 2 we have the cosmic, corporate nature of the Gospel message on full display. It includes me but is not “about” me. So Paul says,

For he [King Jesus] is OUR peace; in his flesh he has made BOTH GROUPS [Jews/Gentiles like in Galatians 2] into ONE and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between US … that he might create ONE NEW HUMAN RACE out of the two, thus making PEACE, and reconcile both GROUPS to God in the ONE BODY … (2.14-18)”

See all of chapter 2 … every “you” is plural.”

Here we see clearly as the noonday Sun why Paul calls the Gospel the “message of reconciliation.” God is healing the whole of creation. I am part of creation!

Salvation heals the divisions that have vandalized God’s creation and ripped human to human relationships to shreds. God’s salvation has not and does not erase the diversity of creation. Through Christ, God has taken Sin away that uses diversity as grounds for division. Or as Paul says, Christ has killed the “hostility” between us, he did not kill Jewness and Gentileness. In the church, the beachhead of God’s new creation, “the wisdom of God in its RICH VARIETY might be made known” (Eph 3.10).

Diversity is “holified” by the blood of Jesus, just as it was when it was created by Jesus.

That it is not about me but includes me, explains why the Greatest Command is to Love God and Love Neighbors. John further reduces the Great Command to Love Neighbor and declares that we lie when we claim to love God while not loving his image in the diverse people around us.

This is why worship throughout the Bible is communal. And in that worship “I” am told to “consider the poor” (Ps 41). This is why Paul castigates the Corinthians. He even states baldly that, regardless of what they think, they are not taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11.20). Paul is not up in arms because the Corinthians are not having private visions on the suffering of Jesus playing in their minds. Paul is upset because of how they are eating. As in Antioch, the table has become a place that emphasizes division rather than oneness. They are shaming the poor.

It is not about me and God; it is about us and God. Salvation healed us, not just me. As Israel could not offer a sacrifice “alone” so Christians eat celebrating our fellowship in diversity. The table is the vision of what salvation looks like.

So if we understand the breathtaking scope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it changes how we relate to everything. But especially matters where division drives humans from humans. This is why dealing with racism as a matter that is bigger than me is most certainly a matter of the Gospel itself. Explicitly so.

Salvation changes the world, indeed the whole cosmos. It isn’t just about me, but it includes me. Are we inline with the Gospel?


My Father was a Homeless Aramean

A Confession of Saving Grace

Ancient Israelites did not possess personal Bible’s nor, for that matter, did ancient Christians. They remembered (they were instructed) the “story” that mattered through worship. Israel’s worship calendar took the average Israelite through the Gospel of God’s Saving Grace every year. In the festivals, the story is told (=remembered).

For example, during “first fruits” (=Pentecost) the worshiper would come to the Lord with a basket of the fruit of the land. The basket of food was given to the priest. Then God’s people offered a “confession.” And then they gathered for a feast with all priests, the slaves and the aliens, in the Presence of the Lord. Worship suddenly redefined the social world, a new world was created.

Then you, together, with the Levites and the aliens among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house” (Deuteronomy 26.11. Notice that v.12 continues to list the powerless).

The confession God’s people offered is found in Deuteronomy 26.5-10 (vv 1-10). This is one of the most important statements of biblical faith. It is even incorporated into the Passover as well.

So the Israelite would say, “confess,” the narrative of God’s Mighty Acts. It may be sort of like the Old Testament version of what Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15.1-4. The creed of God’s acts.

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor;
he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien,
few in number,
and there he became a great nation,
mighty and populous.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us,
we cried to the LORD,
the God of our ancestors;
the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction,
our toil, and our oppression.
The LORD brought us out of Egypt
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,
with a terrifying display of power,
and with signs and wonders;
and he brought us into this place and gave us this land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
(Deuteronomy 26.5-9, NRSV. The text from v.1 to v.15 ought to be meditated upon).

My father was a wandering Aramean …” (NIV)

What a stunning confession of the grace of God we encounter here. Yahweh’s graciousness is stressed and Jacob’s (=Israel) vulnerability are the core of the Israelite confession of faith. The confession binds the ancient past to the present worshipper. Israel went into Egypt long ago but it is “we” who are afflicted, enslaved, oppressed and delivered.

Worship conflates the distance of time and space and brings God’s mighty act of grace for the aliens in Egypt to the very moment “we” stand before God with thankful hearts to share God’s grace with slaves and aliens.

Israel’s worship magnifies God’s grace by testifying to Yahweh’s decision to side with the “least of these.” Israel’s obedience is never mentioned. What is mentioned is Israel’s desperate situation. Yahweh quite literally delivered Israel from the “kingdom of death” and brought us into the “kingdom of life.”

Who Are “We”?

The first line says quite a bit. In a terse statement our sense of privilege is annihilated. We are what our ancestor was. What kind of Aramean was he/we?

I have studied this text many times and its significance has only grown. Today, I was startled, yet again, by what I did not know. So what kind of an Aramean is Jacob/Israel?


At the very least, Jacob was a nomadic migrant. Israel followed in his footsteps by wandering around in the Wilderness learning that life does not come from the stability that we humans manufacture for ourselves. Rather Israel was thrust into a nomadic life for forty years in the Sinai desert to learn that they are dependent upon the hesed of Yahweh to care for our daily needs.

Remember the long way the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8.2-3)

We, of course, recognize these words from Jesus’s testing the Wilderness (Mt 4.4 citing Dt 8.3). Jesus, like his ancestor became a wandering Aramean having no place to lay his head (Mt 8.20). But long before Jesus, Israel’s worship calendar took Israelites back to the wilderness during the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles. Yet again the stress is on remembering Yahweh’s care and reminding us of who we really are. We are a wandering people, a migrant people … a “wandering Aramean was our ancestor.

Biblical worship reminds us of our identity by stressing the vulnerability we remember about ourselves.


But the confession of our ancestors says more than we are mere wanderers. I was reading in a different translation today and was stopped dead in my tracks. I pulled down my Hebrew Bible and low and behold.

The term ‘abad‘ translated as “wandering” in most Protestant Bibles occurs 185 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is translated “wandering” a whopping total of one single time (1x) in the NIV, KJV, etc, right here in Deuteronomy 26.5.

This sent me to examine a myriad of other occurrences of the term. What other ideas lie hidden away in this term that are lost to us because of the power of tradition in translation?

The root has two basic meanings:

  1. perishing/dying/destroyed
  2. become lost

The word stresses the fragility of life or circumstances.

Sometimes the term refers to something that has been destroyed, or to possessions or even hope that has been lost. So a donkey or a cloak can become ‘abad.

“you shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey or garment; and you shall do the same for anything your neighbor loses” (Deut 22.3; 1 Sam 9.3,20).

The Psalmist says, “I have gone astray like a sheep” (119.176).

The idea of perishing/destroyed is in many texts. “you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places” (Num 33.52).

My ancestor was an ‘abad!


The term “wandering” in English hardly captures what the ancient Israelite is commanded to confess and remember. It will be recalled the only place, out of 185x, where our term is so translated.

Israelites are told to remember the lack of status of their heritage, the lack of power to take care of themselves. This magnifies the grace of Yahweh. So here are some translations that tell us what kind of ancestor we have.

1) “An AILING Aramean was my father” (Peter Craigie’s Commentary)
2) “My father was an Aramite REFUGEE” (First Testament: A New Translation)
3) “An Aramean Astray my Ancestor” (Schocken Bible)
4) “My father was a HOMELESS Aramean” (NEB/REB)
5) “My father was a FUGITIVE Aramean” (Tanakh)
6) “My father was a STARVING Aramean” (Common English Bible)
7) “a NOMAD Aramean was my father” (The Bible: An American Translation)

The force of Deuteronomy 26.5 is compelling. Israelites were a family of nobodies living off the “handouts” of Yahweh. The force of this confession is to curb arrogant self-reliance, foster humility, and constantly keep in our face that we exist by the generosity of Another (read the whole of 26.1-11). This confession is so important that it is also incorporated into the Passover liturgy.

My Father was a starving Aramean

A Nation of Aliens

The very identity of God’s people is enmeshed with the precarious existence of aliens. We are refugees. We are ailing. We are homeless. We are starving. We are nomads. We are fugitives. We survive because Yahweh gives us grace.

Using slightly different terminology, but same idea, the Bible repeatedly stresses that God’s people are aliens. We are not aliens to God’s good creation. We are aliens to the power structures of this fallen age, the Egypt’s, the Assyria’s, the Babylon’s, the Roman’s, the German’s, and even the American.

And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers …” (Hebrews 11.13-16)

Beloved, I urge you, as aliens and exiles …” (1 Peter 2.11-12)

As John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine write in Kingdom Come about the radical nature of baptism.

“This new life entails seeing the world from the perspective of the new creation. Baptism entails the inauguration of a new humanity, one that is no longer defined by race, gender, nationality, or political orientation (Gal 3:27-28). This means we are no longer defined by the ideologies of the present age. To put it another way, baptism explains why disciples do not make the best Americans, Germans or Ethiopians.” (Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, p. 40)

God’s people know who they are. Our status as graced fugitive/homeless/starving/refugees facilitates empathy in God’s people for others. This is why Yahweh told Israel they were to “know the heart of an alien.”

Do not oppress an alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23.9)

Our Father was a refugee. We are a nation of refugees. We become Pharaoh’s when we forget what all of God’s people confess:

“My father was an Aramite REFUGEE

Surely this text certainly speaks to God’s people today.

The text, once more, blows me away!

Technical Support

‘abad,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed. William A. VanGemeren, vol 1, pp. 223-225.

Mark W. Hamilton, Jesus, King of Strangers

John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding

Of all the forms of negro hate in this world, save me from the one which clothes itself with the name of loving Jesus.” (Frederick Douglass)

Edward J. Robinson

I met Edward J. Robinson through Don Meredith, the inimitable librarian at Harding School of Theology back in the late 1990s. I was working on a thesis and kept running across a figure, S. R. Cassius, in obscure journals in the Cave of Mirofilm. I started to collect his writings. That was when Meredith told me of Robinson who was working on a dissertation on Cassius at Mississippi State University. We would meet several times after. Robinson would go on to publish To Save My Race from Abuse: The Life of Samuel Robert Cassius (University of Alabama Press 2007). Since finishing his work on Cassius, Robinson has single handedly defined the historiography of African American Churches of Christ through a series of books and articles. His books include Show Us How You Do It: Marshall Keeble and the Rise of the Black Churches of Christ, 1914-1968; The Fight is On in Texas: A History of African American Churches of Christ in the Lone Star State, 1865-2000; To Lift Up My Race: The Essential Writings of Samuel Robert Cassius (editor); and I Was Under a Heavy Burden: The Life of Annie C. Tuggle.

Hard Fighting Soldiers

Hard Fighting Soldiers is a labor of love and a gift of grace to Churches of Christ.

The works of previous historians like Robert Hooper and Richard Hughes have included chapters, almost as an addendum, on black Churches of Christ. But Edward Robinson’s latest work is the first full length scholarly history of the African American Churches of Christ. Hard Fighting Soldiers: A History of African American Churches of Christ (University of Tennessee Press, 2019) is brisk, concise, and contextual.

Hard Fighting Soldiers has twelve chapters along with a short prologue and epilogue. The chapters take us from roots in slavery in 1816 to the presidency of Barack Obama. There are chapters on significant women, hymnody, and the quest for the “magic of education” that open whole windows to worlds that are often unknown among predominantly white Churches of Christ. Most white disciples in Churches of Christ will recognize the name of Marshall Keeble. But Robinson shows our family tree is both richer and far more complex than Keeble. We interact with the conflicted and convoluted views on slavery by Alexander Campbell (there is no discussion of people like Pardee Butler, Ovid Butler, Jonas Hartzel, etc). We are introduced to Levi Kennedy Sr, S. W. Womack, G. P. Bowser, J. S. Winston, R. N. Hogan, Fred D. Gray, Annie C. Tuggle, Thelma Holt, and a host of other hard fighting soldiers.

I used the word contextual above to describe Hard Fighting Soldiers. Contextual is the strength of this work. Robinson’s concise history is placed squarely within its north American context. Actually, the context can probably be narrowed even more, north American southern context. The African American Churches of Christ, like the white ones, are a creation of the land that was once the old Confederacy.

That context gave it (and us) birth, that context, shaped its growth and development, and that context ultimately shaped it as an independent religious body. Yes, the context is, within space and time, north America but the content of that context is the issue of race: slavery, Jim Crow, racism. It is impossible to tell the story of the emergence of African American Churches of Christ apart from racism.

Robinson takes us through the “racial thought of white churches of Christ” (ch. 4). It was this thought that framed all interaction with black disciples from the beginning (and many would say still does). Robinson shows how men like S. R. Cassius and G. P. Bowser fought hard against that context and were thus either ignored or marginalized and tried to be controlled by white power. But there were men like Marshall Keeble who took a different approach and tried to work within the system and was “rewarded” so to speak. In my opinion, this is why most white disciples know Keeble but frequently have no idea who Bowser is and never ever heard of Cassius.
But we should know who Ethel Carr is. Carr, six years old, desegregated the all white Buena Vista Elementary School in Nashville three years before Ruby Bridges in New Orleans. We should know Patricia Jenkins, who braved the “Freedom Rides” through Alabama.


There are a few puzzles to me about Hard Fighting Soldiers. While discussing Cassius’s response to the vile film The Birth of a Nation. Cassius is the only leader in the Churches of Christ, white or black, to publicly say anything about this grotesque apology for the KKK and racism. But Robinson does not inform the reader that SRC wrote an entire book in reply called The Third Birth of a Nation. He does not cite it either. Yet he has a section on “S. R. Cassius’s Fight against The Birth of a Nation.

Robinson refers to the Nashville Christian Institute several times through the narrative though no section is dedicated to it. The “Magic of Education” focuses upon Bowser’s work and legacy. The closing of the Nashville Christian Institute in 1967 is mentioned as the “grab of the century,” but if a person does not already know what that is they will not learn of that tragic miscarriage of justice in Nashville.

Not everything can be put into a book. And these are not necessarily criticisms but just puzzles to me.


Hard Fighting Soldiers is required reading for anyone wanting to understand our black sisters and brothers. It is also essential reading for understanding our own white fellowship.

There is great irony in the fact that while decrying worldliness, the dangers of the cultural church, and the like both white and black Churches of Christ have been extremely located, extremely worldly, extremely cultural all the while denying such vociferously. We, both white and black Churches of Christ, have a genuine, actual, faith shaping history that come from its American context that is greatly removed from Scripture.

Black Churches of Christ provide a brilliant critique for white Churches of Christ when it comes to our enmeshment in our racist Confederate heartland. But at the same time the two fellowships shared a common cultural hermeneutic that fostered neo-gnostic dichotomies between “physical” and “spiritual” enabling us to outright ignore (or justify) injustice and racism. Or when it was addressed such was thought of as political rather than biblical theology. Marshall Keeble was a product of both his southern American culture and his Stone-Campbell culture that taught him how to read the Bible or which parts were the real Bible.

Ed Robinson is to be thanked for his passion for telling us the story of black Churches of Christ. He has produced a compelling volume that sheds considerable light on not only where we are but how we got here.

You can purchase Hard Fighting Soldiers by following the link. I make no money for this btw.


We still have a long way to go.

Harding University’s 5,541 member student body is 5.34% African American (how many of these are athletes).

Abilene Christian University’s 5,145 member student body is 12% African American.

Lipscomb University’s 4,620 member student includes 467 African American students.

Pepperdine University’s student body is 6.82%.

Before you read another word, the point of this post is, choose compassion. Be compassionate. Reflect compassion. Compassion, Love, first. Compassion is the beginning and the end.

Time for some honesty. I ask that you read prayerfully. An Exercise in having Eyes to See and Ears to Hear.

We conservative North American believers are an interesting lot. We love praise songs. We claim to be devoted to Jesus. We claim we are devoted to “traditional family values.” We act, typically, as if God is a capitalist. We might even think Jesus salutes the American flag and that above all God thinks that homosexual sexuality is the greatest of all sins.


You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbors eye” (Jesus, Mt 7.5).

But are we (conservative North American believers) free from the charge of hypocrisy?

I would wager that a good deal of the culture of North American Evangelical type faith simply is not rooted in the biblical narrative at all. Our faith is often simply not based on a deep understanding of Scripture. Do we escape the charge of hypocrisy?

Divorce rates among conservative north American believers are the same and in some places exceed those of nonbelievers (I say this by way of lament! I am a divorcee!). See the study published by Baylor University, Evangelicals Have Higher than average Divorce Rates.

Conservative Christians often vocally condemn homosexual activity as perverted and loathed by God. Yet, adultery and fornication is as likely among Evangelicals as it is among nonbelievers. See Are Most Single Christians in America Having Sex. I was once told that a Christian Single dating site was also known as ChristianSex [dot] com.

Evangelicals are certainly open to the charge of hypocrisy when we claim that homosexual activity is somehow more detestable to God than heterosexual activity outside the covenant of marriage.

Justify Ourselves ?

We conservative believers, often, harshly condemn those who struggle with sexual identity. It is an “abomination” before God. And we quote the old KJV of Leviticus 18.22; 20.13.

Perhaps this shows, however, that we have selectively read the Scriptures. It may also reveal we religious people use the biblical text, as that religious scholar of old did, to justify ourselves.


A person does not need to know Hebrew to grasp my point. Simply having a concordance can show that our common religious failings are in the exact same category as homosexual activity … but in an effort to feel superior we sometimes turn a blind eye to the truth.

The Hebrew for “abomination” (KJV) or “detestable” (NIV) is to’ebah. When we consult the concordance (such as Goodrick & Kohlenberger III, NIV Exhaustive Concordance), we learn that this exact same term is used many times in the Hebrew Bible.

Interestingly, it is used 21x in the book of Proverbs. Lady Wisdom tells us in Proverbs 6 that there are “six … seven things the LORD hates.” These things are an “abomination” to him (6.16, NRSV). This is the exact same term in Leviticus 19 and 20. What so interesting here is that homosexual activity is not mentioned but look what is.

There are six thing that the LORD hates,
seven that are an ABOMINATION
[to’ebah] to him:
haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are quick to rush to evil,
a lying witness who lies,
and one who sows dissension among the family.

(Proverbs 6.16-19)

Each of these is characterized as to’ebah. Note that lying is mentioned twice. Note that arrogance is mentioned. Note the various attitudinal attacks upon relationships are mentioned. Note that causing disunity is mentioned. Note also that these seven things are routinely found in most conservative assemblies of North American believers. Yet we do not witness Facebook campaigns against these. We do not see boycotts. We do not even hear sermons on them.

But Paul …

Someone will say, “But Paul says God’s wrath is being revealed against homosexual activity in Romans 1.”

Perhaps, this is yet another example of Paul knowing his Bible and we do not. Indeed, clearly Paul does mention homosexual activity (not orientation), as does Leviticus.

However, a third of the passage is ignored and is about the stuff found in Proverbs 6 that has nothing to do with homosexuality. Paul does not single it out as more depraved than anything else. In fact, Paul lists it along with,


(Romans 1.28-32)

all of these “deserve death” the apostle wrote in Romans 1.28-32. The apostle would go on to say (quoting the Hebrew Bible) that there is “no one righteous, not even one” (Rom 3.10ff; quoting Psalm 14).

Ezekiel, Sodom and Proverbs

The Bible reveals that God really does loath those seven things. We conservatives often point to Sodom and Gomorrah to show that God especially dislikes homosexuality. God destroyed those gay people. Sometimes, we conveniently forget that the Holy Spirit point blank tells us the exact sin of Sodom and it is forgotten by us. Ezekiel tells us what it was.

NOW THIS WAS THE SIN of your sister Sodom:
She was arrogant,
overfed and unconcerned;
they did not help the poor and needy.
They were haughty and did detestable things before me
(Ezekiel 16.49-50)

It is hard to get a clearer statement than “now this was the sin of your sister Sodom.

Notice how this text never explicitly mentions homosexual activity (it may be implied but some scholars debate that in the context of Ezekiel). Some might claim it is in the word “detestable.” Interestingly, this is the same exact term that is used in both Leviticus 18.22/20.13 and Proverbs 6.16-19 quoted above.

The abominations are:

self indulgence,
lack of care for the poor

These are just as much an abomination as the homosexual activity. And this is why God destroyed Sodom.

If we read Ezekiel, the Lord makes it clear that Israel’s sin is even worse than that of Sodom (16.51ff) yet there is no suggestion that Judah’s sin in this passage is homosexual activity.

Now I do not deny there was homosexual activity at Sodom, other biblical texts make this clear. I am simply pointing out what is stated in black and white in the biblical text, it is not singled out in Ezekiel nor Paul.

But we conservatives do not like that. It makes “us” like “them.”

It is part of the fallen human condition to want to feel morally superior to “those” people (whoever “those” people may be). But Scripture puts the arrogant, self-righteous, north American believer in the same place as “those” we bitterly condemn. Often our bitter rantings (and that is what they often are) are projections of our own prejudices not that that person is any worse than the arrogant, gossips, greedy, overfed, people welcomed with open arms in our churches.

Following Jesus’s Example

Jesus’s interaction with Levi (Mt 9.9-13); the “woman at the well” (Jn 4); and the “woman caught in the act” (Jn .7.53-8.11) ought to weigh heavily on our interaction with any human being, regardless of the circumstances. Likewise our Lord’s upbraiding of the religious people of his day should echo in our ears (cf. Matthew 23).

We Evangelical and Restoration Christians need a massive dose of humility. We need to revisit the notion of grace once again. We, all of us, are sinners before the holy God. Jesus loves the homosexual sinner as much as he loves those who, in the words of Ezekiel, are “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned for the poor.

When we are convinced, that we ourselves have nothing in our hands to bring but simply “to thy cross” we cling, we will be far more welcoming of other sinners no matter from which direction they come.

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench
…” (Isaiah 42.3)

May the gentle compassion of Jesus flow through us to all who are “bruised” in their lives and hearts.

Having Eyes to See and Ears to Hear. Always side with mercy, always practice love.

(On the term to’ebah see, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, edited Willem A. VanGemeren, vol 4, pp.314-318)