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It has been over a month since the tragic death of George Floyd, and in that time, our nation has experienced a high level of ethnic unrest that we have not seen in recent history. Protests and demonstrations continue to break out across the country as communities grapple with how to address issues of race and injustice.
But outside of the protests, another trend is growing and beginning to reach all aspects of our society. It is the effort to effectively re-write history by discarding anything that could be perceived as offensive to certain groups of people.
Some may have good intentions, while a few seem to be seeking to take advantage of the situation. Regardless, we must ask ourselves whether these responses are productive and effective. Will re-writing history really solve the issue of devaluing human dignity?
Statues Falling, Paintings Removed, and Traditions Abandoned
The effort to re-write history is taking numerous forms. The most obvious is the push to remove statues of certain historical figures – especially those with ties to the Confederacy.
The idea of removing statues of controversial historical figures isn’t new, with one of the most recent examples being in 2017 when Democrats on Capitol Hill pushed to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol building following the white supremist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the last few weeks, this idea has been revived, with members of both the House of Representatives and Senate asking to have nearly a dozen statues removed.
While the effort regarding the removal of statues has been blocked so far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi redirected her energy toward something over which she has direct jurisdiction: paintings in the speaker’s “portrait collection.” As such, on June 18, Pelosi ordered the removal of four portraits from the Capitol of former House Speakers who also served as Confederate leaders.
This push to remove potentially offensive artifacts hasn’t been exclusive to politicians in Washington.
In Richmond, Virginia, a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee has been the focus of attention. The site of the statue has been a hotspot of protests, where some have even turned into violent confrontations with law enforcement. The town is so divided on the issue that a legal battle has now broken out over the possible removal of the statue.
At universities, similar acts are playing out in the form of banned traditions.
For example, for the last 25 years, fans of the University of Florida Gators could be heard repeating a “Gator Bait” chant at sporting events. However, this chant has come under fire in recent weeks, and is now banned due to the “historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” according to the university president, Kent Fuchs.
Based on reports, the imagery he is referring to is the abhorrent practice of hunters in the late 1800s and early 1900s using African American babies as alligator bait. The practice led to the phrase “alligator bait” becoming a racial slur against African Americans.
This evil practice is beyond horrifying and racial slurs are certainly not acceptable. However, the chant at Florida did not originate with any racist intent.
In fact, the chant originated from football player named Lawrence Wright, who coined the phrase after the team defeated Florida State University in 1995. Wright, who is African American, has strongly condemned the decision to ban the chant.
Wright told The Gainsville Sun, “I created something for us. It’s a college football thing. It’s not a racist thing, It’s about us, the Gator Nation. And I’m Black.”
He continued with this simple, yet profound point, “It’s not about us not getting along because of a cheer.”
The Biblical and Human Dignity Implications of Re-writing History
But the bottom line is that all these actions miss the mark on how we as a nation should respond to acts of injustice. Re-writing history has no standing in Biblical truth and overlooks the role of the heart as the main source of evil and injustice against our fellow humans.
The Bible is full of imperfect people whose mistakes are preserved and put on display for the world to read about for generations. From the time of the fall, sin came into the world and corrupted humanity’s original intended perfection.
However, the stories of the shortcomings of Biblical figures are not included because we agree with their actions. They are included so we can learn from the mistakes they made. They are included to demonstrate the love, forgiveness, and transformative power of Jesus Christ. They are included to give us a foundation for the intrinsic dignity we all have because we are made in the image of God.
The same idea applies today. The statues and paintings of historical figures from the Confederacy were not all displayed because we agree with every decision the person or group made. They were not all designed to be a homage to slavery. Some of these statues and paintings were erected as an acknowledgement of our nation’s history – the good and bad – so we can learn from it.
Lawrence Wright is correct. It’s not because of a cheer that racism has persisted in this country. It’s not because of a statue, or a painting, or a movie. It’s because our society fails to recognize the intrinsic dignity we all have as human beings. And we fail to acknowledge the true root of discrimination against fellow humans – our sinful hearts. If we do not recognize our own sin, we cannot end discrimination.
Removing statues cannot heal a human heart. Only Christ can do that.
Moving forward, I hope we as Christians can originate discussions that challenge the modern view of what dignity means, and how a proper view could solve the injustices in our society. I hope we can be the example of the love, grace, and forgiveness of Christ in a fallen world. And I hope that we will be an advocate for the dignity of all human life.