A Person Holding a Cross

The Flag and the Cross

After the terrible racially motivated murders at the Charleston church last week, great focus has turned to the Confederate flag as a symbol embraced by the murderer. The flag actually is not the flag of the Confederacy, but the Confederate Battle Flag known as the Southern Cross. The flag has been a symbol of the heritage of courage and valor held dear by Southerners. It also stands as a symbol of the rights of States against intrusive federalism, a symbol with meaning today and not just historically. The flag has unfortunately but undeniably also long been used as a symbol of racism and terror by white supremacists.

The debate involves demands that the flag be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol because so many find it offensive, even though it also stands for legitimate purposes. Ignored in the debate, however, is the fact that the same racist heritage behind the Southern Cross can also be ascribed to the Cross held dear by Christians throughout the world. The Ku Klux Klan wielded a cross as a symbol of hate and terror and other white supremacist and hate groups, such as the Woodsboro Baptist Church, have stood behind a cross when spewing their hate.

Although a cross has been abused as an instrument of hate and offense just as the flag, the Cross of Christ stands in opposition. The message of the Cross of Christ is one of God’s love and mercy that transforms lives. The victims of Charleston died beneath that Cross. They died in service to the message of the Cross. They welcomed their murderer as witnesses to that message and became martyrs to the Cross of love, not simply victims of hate. And their family, friends, congregation, and community have found comfort in their grief in that same Cross. Moreover, the witness of forgiveness spoken by the representatives of the martyrs at the bail hearing is an extraordinary testament to the power of the message of the Cross.

I think it regrettable that the legitimate symbolism of the Confederate Battle Flag has been subsumed in the legacy of hate that also surrounds it. But whatever appropriate use it may have had symbolically, the message is lost. South Carolina apparently is moving to remove it from state grounds. Doing so is appropriate. But I wish the energy being turned on the flag would instead go toward lifting up the Cross, the symbol of the love and compassion for which the martyrs died. I would prefer that we focus on why they died, rather than why they were killed. Their witness to the love of the Cross is not being ignored, but far more attention has been paid to the hate the murderer found in the flag. We would honor them far more effectively, however, if we focused more on the love that they found in the Cross, than the hate of the killer’s flag. We Christians must assure that the message of the Cross does not get lost in the debate around the killer’s hate.

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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