An interfaith coalition of clergy has called upon Mississippi to remove the Confederate battle banner from the official state flag, renewing a years-long debate.
Earlier this month, clergy representing Christianity, Islam, and Judaism held a press conference at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in support of changing the flag.
In a statement published by Working Together Mississippi, the clergy group referenced the recent killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests against racism and police brutality.
“There has never been a more fitting and necessary time to make this change. We ask that our state leaders and the legislature proceed immediately to do so. To delay doing this will only further exacerbate the deep racial divisions that have existed for 401 years,” read the statement.
“The immediate removal of the Battle Flag from the Mississippi state flag will be an important public symbol of our willingness as a state to seek repentance and racial reconciliation. We call on our elected leaders to act now.”
Episcopal Bishop Brian Seage of the Diocese of Mississippi told Episcopal News Services that he believes the flag “belongs in museums and in archives and in history books.”
“When we see the Confederate battle flag, yes, it represents history, but it also represents a painful period for folks — a really painful period for many of our African American brothers and sisters, of injustice and an intention to not really see their full humanity," said Seage.
The Rev. Jason Coker of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi expressed his support for removing the Confederate symbol from the state flag at the press conference.
“Jesus said love God and love your neighbor,” stated Coker, as reported by local media outlet WLBT. “And I think we can do this if it’s an act of love to neighbor.”
In recent weeks, longstanding debates over Confederate imagery like statues and flags on public property have ignited several protests and sometimes violent actions like vandalism.
In Richmond, Virginia, former capital of the Confederacy, protests have been held at the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, with many being sprayed with graffiti or torn down.
Past efforts to remove the Confederate imagery from the Mississippi state flag have failed, including a 2001 referendum in which 64% of state voters rejected a proposal for change.
For many in the South, images like the Confederate battle flag represent heritage rather than racism, serving as a tribute to their ancestors, most of whom did not own slaves.
In 2016, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution encouraging members to not publicly fly the Confederate battle flag.
Cross Pointe Church Pastor James Merritt, a descendant of two Confederate veterans, explained at the time that he supported the resolution for the sake of the Gospel.
"This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion," said Merritt in 2016. "Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the Cross of Jesus and the Grace of God.”
"This flag is a stumbling block to many African-American souls to our witness. And I rise to say that all the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race."