Question: How should Christians respond to the desecration of the symbols of our national heritage and history?
The barbarians are at the gate. The mobs are now loose in the centers of American cities, tearing down statues and memorials representing our history and our heritage. They started with Confederate political leaders and generals. Many of us understood from the beginning that the Confederate leaders were clearly a Trojan horse.
Let me be clear: the Confederate memorials should be moved into historical museums, but only after the people’s elected representatives in the locales where these statues are located voted to do so. To have mobs take the law into their own hands is unacceptable – and dangerous. Such actions erode the rule of law, which is precious, valuable, and very fragile. It is far easier to destroy the rule of law than it is to build it up in the first place, brick by painful brick.
Now these mobs in the last few days have torn down and defaced statues of George Washington, the father of our country; and Thomas Jefferson, the chief author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States. Why? Was it because he was a slaveholder? Jefferson, who indeed was a slaveholder, but he also wrote “all men are created equal” and as enshrined on the Jefferson Memorial, declared:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.
And these domestic terrorists are even attacking the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. They have defaced the Lincoln Memorial and want his statue removed in Boston.
These radical revolutionaries are exploiting the legitimate, heart-felt protests by tens of thousands of Americans, black and white, against police brutality and residual racism in American society.
They have torn down a statute of Ulysses S. Grant, the general who defeated the Confederacy and who as president helped shepherd the ratification of the Constitution’s Fifteenth Amendment, which says “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment gave constitutional guarantees of the right of former slaves to vote. Grant also appointed numerous African-Americans to prominent places of service in his administration, and fought fiercely for the rights of the freedmen during Reconstruction.
The mob also destroyed a statue of Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why? He owned slaves. On the statue’s empty pedestal, the mob scrawled their own graffiti: “kill the colonizers” and “kill whitey.”
They have also successfully agitated for the removal of President Theodore Roosevelt’s statue in New York City. And in the last few days they even tried unsuccessfully to tear down the statue of Andrew Jackson across the street from the White House.
Where does this end? Are we going to chisel away Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln’s, and Teddy Roosevelt’s images from Mount Rushmore? Are we going to demolish the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial? Are we going to change the name of the nation’s capital? And why stop with Teddy Roosevelt? Should we also remove memorials to Franklin D. Roosevelt because he interned 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II? Where does it end?
Earlier this week, Shaun King, one of the most visible of the Black Lives Matter leaders, proclaimed, “I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. Yes. All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form of white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.”
This will not stop until we insist that it stop. These Marxist revolutionaries — and that’s what they are — want to delegitimize America’s heritage and culture. They are defaming America as an illegitimate concept and project from the beginning, fatally compromised by slavery and racism rather than being the Puritans’ “city on a hill” and a revolution that declared and asserted the belief that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
And while we are still striving to live up to that ideal, it is that ideal that has made us a beacon of hope to the world. And that is why people of all ethnicities and backgrounds from all over the world yearn to immigrate to the United States. As Senator McConnell so aptly phrased it, “Americans know that an imperfect nation built by imperfect heroes is still the most perfect Union the world has ever seen.”
How should we respond to this mortal threat to our freedom? This is supposed to be a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” as President Lincoln asserted in the Gettysburg address where he was honoring the memory of some of the 300,000 Americans who died ending slavery in America. Who elected these mobs? Who gave them the authority to make decisions for the rest of us? How is it that we have elected so many invertebrate politicians who refuse to honor their oath of office, do their duty, enforce the law, and maintain domestic tranquility?
What is at stake here, quite literally, is the rule of law and the very foundations of our civilization. Here in America we too often take the rule of law for granted because it has always been part of the furniture in the room. Consequently, we don’t appreciate how rare it is and how many sacrifices were made by our ancestors to bequeath it to us.
There are only about ten countries in the world where Bush v. Gore in 2000 would have been decided as peacefully as it was here. Polls show that about one in five Americans believe that Gore actually won the election. But when the Supreme Court ruled that Bush has been elected, they accepted the rule of law. I am confident the same thing would have happened had the results been reversed. I am fearful that enough damage is being done to the rule of law that significant portions of the American populace would not accept such a court decision today.
We need to assert and respect the rule of law or we will lose it. And I fear, if we lose it, it will be enormously difficult to get it back.
Dr. Richard Land, BA (magna cum laude), Princeton; D.Phil. Oxford; and Th.M., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) and has served since 2013 as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Land has been teaching, writing, and speaking on moral and ethical issues for the last half century in addition to pastoring several churches.