Religion and Politics in the US

Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.

Heritage or Hate

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On the evening of June 17 2015 nine African Americans were murdered during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. The suspected perpetrator of the Charleston shootings is the twenty one year old male and white supremacist, Dylann Storm Roof. During his confession one of the officers at the scene stated that Dylann wanted ‘to start a race war’. In mourning for the deceased both the US and South Carolina state flag were lowered, however the Confederate flag remained at full height. This was extremely controversial due to the history of the flag, to many Americans the flag is symbolic of their ancestry, although to many others the flag embodies racism and hatred. This inspired the return of the heavily debated question, heritage or hate?

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, his plans to abolish slavery meant his views were very unpopular in several southern states, where many states incomes relied heavily on agriculture, the plantation system, and subsequently the enslavement of thousands of African Americans. Following the election of Lincoln seven Southern states created The Confederate States of America, a confederation of secessionist states. Consequently, the fate of independence of the confederacy was to be decided by the American Civil War. The Civil War started in 1861 and by the spring of 1865 the War had ended and the Confederacy vanished.

Many white Southerners see the flag as a symbol of their proud, distinctive heritage, while many other Americans see it as symbolic of the history of slavery. One of the main reasons some people support its right to fly is because they suggest it is not about racism but honoring the confederate soldiers who gave their lives. Barry Isenhour, a member of the Virginia flaggers, suggests ‘They fought for the family and fought for the state… They were freedom-loving Americans who stood up to the tyranny of the North….’ Barry also questions why people do not take a similar view of other flags, e.g. The Union Jack when it represents a nation that historically practised slavery. Mike Burns, representative of South Carolina, also suggests ‘I don’t think it’s right to dishonor your veterans and put them in a closet in some museum somewhere never to be heard from again.’

After Dylann Roof confessed to the Charleston murders, pictures emerged in the media capturing Roof posing with the confederate flag, support continues to run deep in many South Carolinians and they have hit back suggesting that there is no connection between the shootings and the flag. Regarding Dylann Roof, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham stated “We’re not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read. It’s him… not the flag,” Senator Graham is defending the flag’s history, a viewpoint that many people across America would disagree with.

On the other hand many believe the flag represents an archaic way of thinking, whereby people with dark skin were treated like property. The historical context the flag was used in represents a time where inequality was rife. Many people believe that the flag is a reminder, and to an extent reinforces, the oppression of black people. In South Carolina people consider the flag to inspire violence and create a toxic environment for black people in an area they should feel entirely at home. President Obama also believes the flag holds inherently racist values, he suggests that ‘for many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation…. The removal of the flag would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong.”

The table below shows how national support for the flag has declined in recent years. In 1992 when asked the question ‘Do you, yourself, see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of Southern pride or more as a symbol of racism?’ 69% of people saw the flag as a symbol of Southern pride while 22% saw it as symbolic of racism. Comparing this to 2015 where 57% said Southern pride while 33% said racism. Improved education, understanding and empathy play their part in this decline of support.

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Furthermore, the Charleston shootings prompted a discussion regarding the intersection of Christianity and culture. It is a topic that generally takes a back seat in discussions for the Confederate flag, however the recent killings have rapidly brought it into the limelight. Aside from the flags symbolism of Southern pride, it also has its share of Christian sympathizers. This is because the flags design incorporates the St Andrews Cross. St Andrew was a disciple of Jesus, it is thought that before his execution he asked to be crucified on an X shaped cross as he deemed himself unworthy of crucifixion on the same cross style of Jesus. If this is to be believed it is a remarkable example of stoicism, a man who had previously undergone days of relentless torture still had the fortitude to plead such a thing. The St Andrews cross reminds Christians that they should exercise humility, the ‘quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people’. The bible refers to slave traders as ‘man-stealing’ (1 Tim. 1:10), surely this means slavery and humility are conflicts of interest and cannot logically work side by side? Although the association of slavery with the flag is subjective there is an undeniable history behind why and how the flag came into use.

Continuing on the topic of religion, there is controversy surrounding whether or not the Charleston shootings were more to do with religion than race. The Conservative pundit and Christian minister, E.W Jackson, suggested the shooting was connected to “a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our Biblical views.” Senator Lindsey Graham further suggests that Roof might have been ‘looking for Christians to kill’.  However, many would dispute the involvement of religion in these shootings. The Emanuel Methodist church sits among hundreds of churches of differing religions, surely the only logical explanation behind this targeted attack is racism. Is it time society stops looking for a scapegoat and attempts to tackle the obvious problem at hand?

Shortly after the Charleston shootings South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called upon state legislature to remove the confederate flag from the statehouse, and in July the senate voted 37-3 in favor of removal. On the 10th of July the flag was finally taken down as the crowds cried, applauded and cheered. The question of heritage or hate will undoubtedly continue but to quote Obama hopefully it is “a meaningful step towards a better future”.

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This entry was posted on December 2, 2015 by in Uncategorized, Vol 3, 2015/16.
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