Statues are quickly disappearing from America’s landscape – some removed by government officials, others by unruly mobs. But statues are not the only forms of art falling in response to the most recent racial tensions in our country. Historic paintings featuring racist or racially insensitive images are being taken down. Books are being boycotted. Old television shows and movies are being removed from circulation.
Many are celebrating this removal of the stain of prejudice from the historic canvass of our country. Others are angered by what they consider a knee-jerk response to the issue and the excesses of angry mobs.
I am just sad.
To be clear, I have no problem with the removal of statues or images which promote or encourage racism. Souls have no color. God loves all people and so should we. Prejudice has no place in the heart of a Christian.
I am concerned, however, by the growing “cancel culture” of our country. We quickly boycott businesses or celebrities who express offensive opinions or exhibit behavior we deem unacceptable. Social media only serves to fuel people’s moral indignation. Overnight the careers of celebrities come to a screeching halt, businesses are bankrupted and statues removed.
The issue of the statues is particularly complex and complexing. On one hand, statues are meant to honor individuals for their achievements or character. Many consider the honoring of individuals who were purported to be prejudiced or tied to slavery to be promoting racism.
That is a valid argument.
What makes this issue complex is the complexity of history and human nature. Art in general, and particularly the statues in question, were a reflection of the age in which they were created. The history of our country is littered with societal sins like racism. Do we remove all reminders of the mistakes of our past? Can we or should we erase those chapters of our history?
Even more complex than our history is human nature. Not one of the great heroes of our country was perfect. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders. President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were purported womanizers. Even Abraham Lincoln wavered for much of his life on the issue of slavery. In the same way, many Confederate soldiers fought bravely to protect their families and states from what they considered tyranny.
In the end, we are all complex creatures. Every single one of us has shamefully dark corners hidden in our hearts and past. Honestly, if you or I were born during other periods in history, we very well could have adopted the societal sins and biases of those times.
The devil loves to lead us to feel morally superior to others – whether those living in our own age or in days gone by. When we focus on the sins of others, we fail to see our own. We fail to see how much we need Jesus. We fail to appreciate his amazing grace which saved wretches like you and me.
Moral indignation is actually immoral.
But the question remains: Should we remove the statues? Intelligent people – intelligent Christians – can honestly and lovingly disagree.
Maybe a better solution than tearing down all the statues would be to erect plaques next to them which explain their complex historical context and educate future generations about the errors of the past.
We can’t erase the past, but we can learn from it.