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To Fly or Not To Fly

July 11, 2015

I’ve been watching the debate over the Confederate Battle Flag, and in particular the taking down of this flag yesterday at the South Carolina Capital, with interest.  As an 18-year resident of the South, but not a native here, I can feel, but not fully grasp, the emotions swirling around in this discussion.  The discussion seems to center around three things.

  1. Is this flag a symbol of heritage or hate? For some this is a symbol of honor for those who fell in the bitter and horrific battles of the Civil War.  For others it tells of a legacy of slavery and discrimination.  It seems clear that it is both at the same time but discussions about how we can do both are few and far between.
  2. To what extent should governments, through memorials and monuments, honor one side of this issue? Nobody I have heard disputes the private use of the flag but many feel that, if the government does this, it is tantamount to officially choosing a side.
  3. Where does this issue stop? Does every Civil War memorial on public land need to come down?  Would that be tantamount to officially choosing the other side?

The emotions are such that, while large suppliers of flags and other Confederate symbols have been dropping them left and right, small suppliers are reporting surges in sales.  A store in this area has sold more Confederate flags in the last three weeks than they did all of last year.

Christians across the South, most notably the Southern Baptists, have repudiated and repented of their support for slavery.  Russell Moore wrote this opinion that was picked up by the Washington Post explaining why he, as a Southern Christian, felt it was important to take down the flag.  By doing so he earned some criticism for being a traitor to his heritage while other critics said it was too little too late.  It prompts me to wonder if we shouldn’t paraphrase Jesus and say “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be shot at by both sides.”

I guess for me the question I’d wrestle with is this one:

To what extent do I want to exercise my freedom of choice when I know that, by doing so, it will be hurtful to others? Do I have any responsibility to curb, even give up, the free expression of my views, or even some aspect of my faith, if I know that expression is hurtful to others?  Or is it just “Too bad for them?”

One axiom of communication is that the burden for getting your message across always falls with the communicator, not with the recipient of the message.  If you mean one thing and the listener hears it a different way, it is your problem to fix.  So when someone says it is “heritage not hate” and the other person says “it feels like hate to me,” the burden of proof is on the communicator.  So if you are going to keep on saying it then you have the obligation to convince the other of your point.  If you want to keep flying the flag then you need to live a life that repudiates and opposes racial hate.  If you don’t you can’t be surprised when others don’t believe you.

The same thing applies to Christians who deny service to same sex couples and claim religious freedom as the reason.  Your denial is hurtful to those you turn away.  Are we willing to set aside that freedom and serve them?  If not, what is your plan to convince them that you love them?


From → Christianity

  1. As always, great thoughts to ponder. Thank you.

  2. Marshall permalink

    While most of the post makes sense, and the part about the peacemakers is golden, I’m conflicted about some of the last section.

    1) I don’t agree that the burden of communication always falls on the communicator. Such an idea seems to indicate to me that the listener has no obligation to try and understand the message being conveyed. If the listener has no interest in participating in the communication, then no, there is no obligation (and I think the listener should communicate the lack of interest); someone is not required to listen just because someone else wants to communicate. If the listener IS trying to participate, then it seems to me like the burden is shared (with the communicator bearing primary responsibility).

    2) You said: “So when someone says it is ‘heritage not hate’ and the other person says ‘it feels like hate to me,’ the burden of proof is on the communicator.”

    What happens if we do a little flip here?

    “So when someone says it is ‘hate not heritage’ and the other person says ‘it feels like part of my heritage to me,’ the burden of proof is on the communicator.”
    (I adjusted the response a little bit to make more sense.)

    • The idea that the burden of proof lies with the communicator comes from classic communications teaching. You can look up Wiio’s Laws of communications. The theory is that the communicator wants to get his message across and assumes the burden of doing so. It is true that a listener can refuse to even consider the message and,if there is disinterest, there is no point to the discussion. But the burden to make the person want to understand, and then actually understand, falls to the communicator. There are ways to determine listener engagement and comprehension and you could make the case that both the communicator and the interested listener should use them; paraphrasing back the point, or asking them to paraphrase it, is the most common. Regarding the “flip”, in most cases, yes the matter applies in either direction. It does not here however. The listener is communicating back how he FEELS and we have to take statements of feeling at face value….there is no way I can question your feelings. I don’t think you can say “it feels like part of my heritage” as that is not an emotional statement. Now, if you replied “It hurts me when my ancestors are disrespected” that statement must be taken at face value and addressed.

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