Why Removing the Confederate Flag Is the Wrong Response to the Charleston Shooting

South Carolina Confederate Flag

There have been a number of responses to the tragic Charleston shooting earlier this week. There’s been an outpouring of grief, support, prayer, and most lately, renewed calls for the complete removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.

This is understandable. The guy was obviously a white supremacist and his car had a Confederate flag license plate. There are several things we need to keep in mind, however.

1. The rebel flag isn’t necessarily a racist symbol.

The South seceded over slavery, no question about it. The Civil War was fought because of slavery. It was the official Confederate position and the reason the South fought the North.

But that isn’t why Robert E. Lee fought.

Nor is it why many soldiers fought for the Confederacy. For many of them, it was family loyalty, southern/state loyalty, states’ rights, etc.

The Confederate flag is the same way. The rebel flag as we know it today was never the official flag of the Confederacy. Rather, it was Lee’s battle flag and was officially adopted by the Confederate Navy. It was, in its official usage, a military flag representing the Confederate forces, not a flag representing the Confederacy itself.

Since the war, the flag has come to mean different things to different people. For some, it’s a symbol of Southern heritage, for others, it’s a symbol of white supremacism. But to assert that it is an inherently racist symbol is as narrow-minded as claiming that Lee personally fought to keep slavery. Technically, you would have a point in both cases, but to leave it at that is simply inaccurate.

This is important because there is so much emotion on both sides of the debate, and emotion clouds judgment. (That’s also why making decisions in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy tends to be very unwise.) Seeing where the other side is coming from is a vital first step to wise decisions.

2. The Confederate movement may be our history, but it’s not something to be proud of.

On the other hand, we need to take a hard look at our own history. Yes, we fought the North. Yes, we were brave (hurrah!). Yes, we whipped the daylights out of those doggone Yankees over and over (and no true Southerner can help being proud of that.).


It was over slavery. The first seven states to secede did so in direct response to the election of a Republican President. There had been absolutely no action taken against the South by Lincoln or anyone else. He wasn’t even sworn in yet. The South had simply promised to secede if a Republican was elected.


Because the Republican party was composed of the abolitionist cast-offs of the Whig party and the other abolitionist third parties. The official Republican position was that slavery should be abolished. So as soon as it was clear that the Republican party was in power, out the door went the first seven states.

If you don’t believe it, read the documents passed by each of the legislatures along with their secession ordinances, starting with South Carolina’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes.”

So, we have to ask if this part of our heritage is something we should celebrate and commemorate. Think about it this way: what if present day Germans celebrated their Nazi heritage the way the South celebrates its Confederate heritage?

I’m not trying to say that the two movements were moral equals: simply that they were both morally evil. When a movement is inherently evil, you don’t celebrate it. You mourn it. You raise war memorials as an acknowledgement of the history, because it is important not to forget the mistakes of the past, but you don’t glory in them.

3. There will always be racists.

There are racists in every state. There are racists of all ages and skin colors. There are black people who hate white people. In the past, there were white people who hated Indians. I read once that in the days of the wild west, the blacks hated the Mexicans.

I think there is more of the “whites against blacks” strain in the South, but racism isn’t a Southern problem. It’s a human problem. Anywhere you find people who are different, you’ll find other people who despise those differences.

Our heritage sowed the seeds of racism and they are still bearing fruit today. But you don’t eradicate a poisonous plant by chasing the farmer who planted it and clobbering him with a hoe. You eradicate it by attacking the plant.

4. Dylann Roof would have murdered those people even if the Confederate flag wasn’t flying on the Statehouse grounds.

It may make people feel good to call for the removal of the Confederate flag. It may bring a sense of relief, a sense of doing something in response to the tragedy. But really, what will it accomplish?

White supremacists will still be racists. They’ll fly the flag anyway. Even if you outlaw the flag, they will hate black people as much as ever. More so, perhaps, because suppressing things like this galvanizes the fanatics.

You can’t fix sinful human hearts with legislation. Sure, you can take down the flag. But what will that accomplish? How could something so impotent be considered a response even worth mentioning?

5. The answer to racism is Christ.

There is only one solution to a sinful human heart: the blood of Christ. The only way to fix racism is by the work of Christ in that heart.

So the proper response is to spread Christ’s love and power. It’s an outpouring of prayer, for both the victims’ families and the shooter, and the racists that think like he does. It’s taking a hard line against racism in our churches and in our own lives. And it’s showing Christ’s love at every opportunity.

The most powerful example of this so far occurred at Dylann Roof’s bond hearing, when the victims’ families had a chance to speak to him:

“I forgive you,” the daughter of victim Ethel Lance, 70, said through tears to Roof, who appeared at the bond hearing via video-conferencing from jail. “You took something very precious from me and I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”


Bethane Middleton Brown, the sister of Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor said, “For me, I am a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very angry. But one thing that she’s always joined in our family with is that she taught me that we are the families that love built. We have no room for hate so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul and I also thank God that I will be around when your judgment day comes with him. May God bless you.”

“I forgive you,” said Anthony Thompson, the husband of slain Myra Thompson, 59. “But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that he can change it, can change your ways no matter what happened to you and you’ll be OK. Do that and you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

(via ABC News)

Folks, racism cannot stand against that. Racism cannot win against that.

So should we take down the flag?

Not as a response to this shooting. Should it be done at all? If you take the flag down, it needs to be after a careful consideration of the actual merits of the case (see points #1 – #2), and hopefully after all the emotion has died down.

The second verse of “Lead On, Oh King Eternal” perfectly sum up the proper response to the Charleston shooting:

Lead on, oh King eternal
Till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper 
The sweet “amen” of peace.

For not with swords’ loud clashing
Nor roll of stirring drums, 
With deeds of love and mercy
The heavenly kingdom comes.

We fight bad policy with legislation. We fight racism with the love of Christ.

And the love of Christ is enough.


  1. I honestly couldn’t stop reading this and I don’t like reading a whole lot. Way to go! -Joel G

  2. Just a few remarks:

    1. “The South” did not secede, individual States did. And while several of the States did seceded because of slavery, several others did not. In no way, however, was the war because of slavery. The war was fought because of secession, and for no other reason. The Union did not fight to end slavery, they fought to prevent the political independence of the Confederacy. These are two very, very different things.

    2. Once again, the war was not fought over slavery, as Lincoln himself repeatedly said; it was fought over the right to secede. And since you brought up South Carolina’s “Declaration of Causes”, you should know that that document makes it abundantly clear that South Carolina had a perfect right to secede. Insofar as the “evil” of slavery goes, that guilt is shared equally with the Unionists. During the entire time the war was being fought, slavery was perfectly legal in the Union, just as it was in the Confederacy. Are we really to believe that the slave-owning citizens of Kentucky were so outraged that slavery was legal in South Carolina that they went to war to free the South Carolina slaves? The idea is preposterous.

    3. Racism, you say, is a human problem not a Southern problem. Agreed.

    4. Dylan Roof is a sad and deeply disturbed young man. And I agree that the flag had nothing at all to do with his shocking and hateful attack.

    5. If you believe the answer to racism can be found in Christ, I will not argue the point.

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