Christianity has long been guilty of the sin of white supremacy. Slave ships had chaplains. Plantation owners “converted” their slaves to Christianity. Churches have long been some of the most segregated spaces in our country. Men like Jefferson Davis, James Vardaman and Ross Barnett read the same bible and worshipped the same God we do. Today, I would hope that a vast majority of the people who profess to follow the risen Christ would agree that white supremacy is indeed a sin that our religion must repent of.
So why would Christians today support the presence of a monument to white supremacy at the heart of our university? The Confederate monument is an idol constructed in the early 20th century to enshrine the “Lost Cause” ideology. The Lost Cause is the belief that the Confederate soldiers were noble heroes fighting for a doomed but just cause. In actuality, Confederate soldiers fought against the U.S. military for their right to own black slaves, made in the image of God, as chattel. This monument exalts not only these men, but also their sin. While I would love to see this sinful idol completely demolished, I understand that its relocation is the best option that is legally feasible.
I also understand that many Christian supporters of the monument do not believe it is a symbol of white supremacy but a monument to the Confederate dead. In that case, wouldn’t the Confederate cemetery be the perfect space to properly represent that? And we also must examine how symbols change over time. The cross once represented Roman dominion over the world, and now it represents the crucified Christ and our faith as a whole. In addition to changing meaning, symbols mean different things to different people. Republican Sen. Roger Wicker acknowledged as much after the Charleston shooting in 2015. Quoting the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:13, he said, “If food is a cause of trouble to my brother, or makes my brother offend, I will give up eating meat.” Even if it is just a monument to “the Confederate dead,” it symbolizes hate to people of color who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Christians, why would we continue to support it?
Jacob Gambrell is a senior international studies major from Chattanooga, Tennessee.