I am not a history buff. Read that as a confession, not an assertion. I am not proud of this. If I have learned one thing as of late, it is the importance of knowing history. Whether it is personal history, church history, national history, or world history, knowledge of the past is more important than I used to recognize. This severe lack proficiency in me is why I have been so hesitant to write about the statue conundrum.
I have avoided this conversation because I feel so ill-equipped to speak into that issue. I openly admit, I know next to nothing about Robert E. Lee. To engage myself in a debate about who he was and what potential merits he has to defend is argumentative suicide. Others have tried, but I am out of my league in that conversation. I never learned much about him, and to be honest, I doubt the public education portrayal would be historically worth defending regardless. My lack of awareness about the history of the war between the States, and the men involved, leaves me indifferent in regards to these monuments. I could live with them or without them. In fact, I had no idea so many were still around. I think reasonable people exist on both sides of that debate, and strong points are made respectively.
However, Douglas Wilson recently wrote a blog which inspired me, because he articulated exactly what I have been feeling. Douglas Wilson is masterful with words. His writing is as an epic battle between wit and words, and if you are wanting commentary on this topic worthwhile, this ought to be the last sentence of this blog you read.
For those who stick around, I would like to make what was a final point of Wilson’s post the central focus of mine.
When it comes to all of the hysteria of the toppling statue movement, there seems to be three responses among those who are not joining in on the parade. One is to defend the statues themselves. The arguments are being made as to why these statues should be standing, whether or not the men portrayed owned slaves.
The second position to take is to bypass presenting a specific stance on the civil war monuments, and express grievance with the process of how they are being removed. Perhaps the statues should come down, but not like this. The anarchist, rule-of-the-mob style of government being witnessed on the news is a slippery slope. Soon enough the things we cherish far more than busts are coming down. The precedent established in these events is, to put it lightly, haunting.
However, I would like to dedicate my commentary to an even different issue: the worldviews fueling the statue-topplers. What I would like to address is what Wilson refers to as faux-righteousness,
“One of the reasons we should resist toppling these statues is because it is being done in a frenzy of faux-righteousness, with people trying to gin up a sense of purity.”
The difference between a statue and an idol is what we do with it. The Robert E. Lee monument was a statue, but had groups of people bowed down before it, paid homage to the old general, and worshiped him, rather than remove him, then it would be much more than a statue, it would be an idol. And were it an idol, nothing would have delighted me more than to witness its total destruction.
Exodus 34: 12-16, “Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.”
The taking down of idols is a game I am happy to cheer on. It is a game I am willing to take part in. But we need to focus and pursue the right ones. Namely, the self-righteous personal busts mounted up within our own hearts. Those are the statues that must come down.
What has bothered me most in all of this is not that I think Robert E. Lee deserves to live long through a public dedication of his image. What has bothered me is not the objective reality of his moral character being honored. What has bothered me is that we think we are in any place to pretend that even the grossest caricature of Robert E. Lee is something our culture has risen above. Wilson exposes that this way,
“One of the central reasons why our generation has gone off on this binge-like moral crusade is that we are trying to compensate for all the guilt. We are sinking further and further into that demented state where we rebel against God’s standards, one after another, and are accumulating guilt because of it. But because we are created in the image of God, we still have a need to feel righteous. We have a deep need to feel more righteous than some other group. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and we want to be that king. We desperately want to feel like we are moral beings, but since we are not, we have resorted to grading on a curve.”
Recognizing there are Christians who provide meaningful argumentation for pursuing the removal of civil war memorabilia, most of the angry mobs who are vandalizing and destroying these monuments, on their own, without a vote, are simply those whose vested interest is in the continued virtue-signaling of the progressive movement. Unfortunately, Progressivism offers our country anything but progress, and their acts of force will continue to misidentify the trajectory of our culture as long as the kowtowing of civil magistrates persists.
This nation has hardly progressed in the slightest. Apparently progress means boys are girls, girls are boys, and we have no means of actually defining either of those terms.
Apparently, progress is introducing more than a handful of new genders into the pot of genders without objective definition.
Apparently, progress is Donald Trump competing with Hillary Clinton for the office of the presidency.
Specifically in regards to slavery, where have we come? We once enslaved 388,000 people. Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and many other American icons participated in this atrocity. But how many Americans participate in the new national sin, whereby 50 million babies have not only been enslaved, but also slaughtered? Some of them are sold, but unlike the slaves of the South, they are not being sold in one piece. How does a country claim progress when our slaves have increased numerically from the thousands to the millions, and are treated unimaginably more barbarically? Remember, a bust of Margaret Sanger still stands in a public place in this nation. That woman is responsible for far more African-American deaths than general Lee was capable of. Wilson articulated it this way,
“So the real problem, and the real shock in all of this, is that by any number of metrics we might use, we are not better than the sinners whose statues are being scrubbed. Adultery is worse than racial bigotry, and we are a nation of adulterers. Abortion is worse than slavery—the slavers when they sold you at least allowed you to live. They didn’t chop you up and sell your parts. They didn’t elect congressmen who gave major amounts of money to the choppers… America has more blood guilt than the Nazis, by a factor of millions, and we disguise this from ourselves by not having our soldiers march goosestep. But if we are comparing the blood of innocents, apples to apples, we are worse. America has far more sexual confusion and perversion than did the Old South. There used to be a huge slave market in Charleston. Before we take spiritual pride in the fact that it is gone (and thank God it is gone), remind yourself what isn’t gone. Black children are still being executed in Charleston and elsewhere, and on a grand scale… ‘I thank thee, God, that I am not like this white supremacist. I thank thee, God, that I am not like those slave-owners. I thank thee, God, that I am not like those Germans during the war.’ Beg pardon, but our generation is exactly like them. We are a people with lust in our hearts, pride in our brains, and blood on our hands. We are not anywhere near as good as we want to think we are.”
So, you’re superior to those white-supremacists, huh? You’re better than Robert E. Lee, huh? Christopher Columbus cannot hold a candle to your holiness, right? By what standard? By whose standard?
The bad news is that we are not moral; we are not righteous. Hatred is not a problem reserved for and unique to Confederate soldiers, slave-owners, and neo-Nazis. As Pastor Wilson puts it,
“This generation may not want to hear more gospel, but they most certainly need to hear more gospel. Jesus Christ died to save sinners, and we most certainly qualify. And by we, I mean all of us, white and black, men and women. We are in a wretched state.”
And that is the real issue here. Let Robert stay, let Robert fall, but what is going to happen to you? All of the men involved in the Civil War, all those involved in southern slavery have died and will give an account, but they will give an account of themselves. What will happen to you on judgment day? I promise you, boasting of a resume replete with statue removals will not cover your sin before a holy God, no matter whose faces were engraved therein.
There is good news. Because of the cross, we can be forgiven; we can be saved. Our faux-righteousness can become real righteousness (Phil. 3: 9). Our self-righteousness can instead become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5: 21). However, this only comes through faith and repentance. Jesus will share the throne with no one. The idols we currently serve must come down, even if we idolize ourselves. We must bear our own cross (Luke 9:23), we must come to Christ and die. The Holy Spirit of God must wreck us, regenerate us, and make us new.
Speaking for myself, I am eternally thankful to the Holy Spirit of God who has toppled my idols, for He is truly righteous, much more so than any angry American mob.