The latest uproar in our society is the controversy over “symbols of slavery and oppression” in our culture, primarily statues of Confederate civil war heros. Ironically, the critics are correct when they claim these men were traitors to the United States, and yet their images have been enshrined in our cities. Personally, I usually don’t give statues much credence in general. To me they are something that birds crap on in the park. It does make me wonder about the motivation for these images in the first place. My guess would be they were there to promote the healing of our country after the civil war, to re-unite our country, re-enfranchising the south. While it may have done that in the past, our society has changed and the sensitivities of others have come to the forefront. To the descendants of slaves, these images do not represent Southern culture; they represent the southern oppressors of their ancestors.
Personally, I’m not invested in the issue of confederate statues. I am not southern, so they don’t represent my heros or culture. I am not a descendant of southern slaves, so they don’t represent oppression to me. The fact that I don’t have a “horse in this race,” does not free me from recognizing there is more than “history” at issue. I would have a lot of problems with people erecting statues to Hitler or other prominent Nazis. People can easily dismiss what does not apply to them.
One of the hardest symbols for me personally, is the cross. Jews have been tortured and killed under the symbol of the cross for over 1700 years. The fact that the persecution and murder had nothing to do with Yeshua and His gospel itself, doesn’t matter. In the name of the cross, Jews; men, women and children, were butchered. The cross is a symbol of oppression. It is so much so, that whenever our congregation rented a worship space from a church, we had to cover up the cross, because it is a sign of oppression and bloodshed. We didn’t want to have that symbol staring us in the face as we sought to worship God. Granted, churches who have crosses don’t intend any anti-semitic message with the sign of the cross, but it doesn’t matter. That’s the history. You can ignore it, you can cover it up, you can remove it, or you can learn to practice mutual respect.
In spite of the cross symbol, I respect my christian friends. My friends respect me as well. I realize what they hold dear, and yet offends me, is not meant to be offensive to me. Ultimately, it’s not about symbols, but what they represent. Neo-nazis brandishing the swastika claim they are just upholding their identities, yet they preach hate against Jews, Catholics and Blacks. Yeshua said, “You will know them by their fruit.” When a symbol communicates other than what you intend, you need to use something else to communicate your intention. Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” Yeshua said it another way; “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving is not so easy, but it’s always worth the effort.