My family bloodline is bound up in a dark part of American history. With a name like Robert Lee the question I undoubtedly receive most about my name is, "Are you related to him?" and the answer is yes, yes I am. I am a descendent of the Lees of Virginia, whenever I visit the Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery I see where my family lived and played, and yes, owned people. I see where Robert Edward Lee, my ancestor, spent probably sleepless nights deciding what to do about the problem our nation faced.
Naturally, when I was younger, I wanted to know everything about where I came from. I wanted to know all about this general in the Army of Northern Virginia, but as I grew in knowledge and stature, I found myself incredibly conflicted and riddled with guilt. I had a small confederate flag, given to me by a friend to remind me of my heritage. I don't know where that flag is anymore, and frankly that's for the best.
You see white Christians cannot sit by while our brothers and sisters are echoing the words of Psalm 13, "How Long, O Lord?" we cannot be the white moderate that Dr. King spoke of when he said, "Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
As a Lee, I am sorry for my history. I am sorry that people were viewed and treated as property by my family. But more importantly I'm sorry that most of us have been shallow in our understanding. It's time for the people of South Carolina to take the flag down, because for all of us, it should be a faith issue.
The Jesus we follow beckons us to a greater understanding of human dignity. For in human dignity we see the incarnation of God. God loved us to the point that he came to 1st century Palestine in a time of misunderstanding much like our own. He challenged the comfortable and overturned tables that needed to be overturned. Now is our opportunity to challenge and overturn what is wrong in the eyes of sensibility and human dignity.
Please hear me when I say we can't ignore our heritage and where we come from. It is impossible. I cannot escape my history of being a descendant of someone who fought to divide this nation. But I can have a response to my history that is healthy and beautiful. I'm reminded of what one of my favorite preachers once said, "If it can't be happy, make it beautiful." Nothing we can do about the history of racism and prejudice in the south can be happy. It is a sad reality we are called to face. But our response, how we live into the future can be really beautiful and something to celebrate; it can be more freeing than we could ever possibly imagine for everyone.
God is somewhere in the midst of this, working to make things beautiful. But God cannot simply rid us of our history. We must work to make true the love of Jesus, we must work to make true the words of the saints who fought and are fighting for civil rights. So as a Lee, whose history is dark, and as a Lee with whatever privilege that provides me, it's time to take down the flag and begin the long road to reconciliation that God offers us.
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