I’m going to copy and paste a photo below of an ordinary Buddhist temple located in Japan. You’ll notice something interesting:
Emblazoned on this temple in gold is one of the most recognizable symbols of evil in the world. The simple bent cross emblem conjures images of human savagery that surpasses anything many of us have seen in our lifetimes. The swastika is a symbol of hate, so much so that I questioned whether I should share it in a blog post. So what is this symbol of the Nazi regime doing on a Japanese Buddhist temple?
The swastika emblem is somewhere around 7,000 years old. It has been a sacred symbol for a number of pre-Christian Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism for several millennia. Its discovery among ancient European ruins suggests that the symbol made its way up into Europe thousands of years ago. As recently as the 20th century, the swastika endured as a popular symbol of good luck throughout the world.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that the swastika came to represent something entirely different; the German Nazi Party appropriated the popular swastika emblem to symbolize Aryan superiority. Their twisted ideology of racial eugenics, social Darwinism, and German nationalism possessed the Nazis to commit one of the most heinous affronts to human life the world has ever seen. The swastika symbol was redefined as a despicable symbol of racism. The emblem represents such a stain on German history that, today, its public display under any circumstance is prohibited by law in Germany . Though the swastika’s use as an innocuous symbol of good fortune endured for 7,000 years across many different cultures, its appropriation by the Nazi party overshadowed all of its history. It is known, and forever will be known, as an emblem of racism and genocide.
If you read the title of this post, you know where I’m going with this.
In 1862 the Confederate States of America were in the thick of war against the United States. It was customary for soldiers to fight under battle flags, which were necessary for unit identification. The Confederate battle flag used at the beginning of the war, nicknamed the “stars and bars”, closely resembled the United States’ iconic stars and stripes. Aside from mitigating the obvious danger of the similar-looking flag drawing friendly fire in the heat of battle, the Confederacy’s intention was to craft an identity that was as separate from that of the United States as possible. They landed on this design :
After the Confederacy’s defeat in 1865, the flag remained a symbol of southern heritage. The Confederate jack elicited a deep personal and emotional connection between Southerners and their ancestors, particularly those who had fallen during the Civil War. Even up until 1940, the flag symbolized, to white Southerners at least, pride in their place of birth, homage to their heritage, and a historical observance of the South’s brief independence from the United States.
I haven’t mentioned the flag’s obvious connection to slavery. Let’s get into that.
Historians agree that the Civil War was a complicated beast of a conflict, with many nuanced issues contributing to the four-year war that claimed 600,000 lives. It is true that many Confederate soldiers simply fought out of a sense of duty and obligation, and not necessarily for the right to own slaves. Conversely, many Union soldiers fought for the same reason – loyalty to their country, not necessarily emancipation . But it would be absurd to suggest that the issue of slavery was not at the center of the conflict. While it is an oversimplification to say that the Civil War was fought over the right to own slaves, it is not an entirely untrue statement. A key distinguishing feature (perhaps the distinguishing feature) between the two sides of the conflict was the legality or illegality of slave ownership. In the Confederate States of America, it was perfectly legal to own another human being as your property, and many were willing to go to war to defend that right. The Ku Klux Klan – an organization founded after the war by Confederate veterans – adapted the flag to propagate their white supremacist doctrine beginning in the 1930s. In 1954, those who opposed the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation ruling used the Confederate flag to represent their support of racial segregation in schools. I could go on, but the point is this: the Confederate flag is the flag of a nation that fought to preserve the right to oppress, abuse, exploit, and traffic black people, and it was used by white supremacists after the fall of the Confederacy to protest laws that would allow a black person to sit in the same restaurant as, or go to school with, a white person.
Understandably, for these reasons and many others, it’s offensive, inconsiderate, and unfair when you proudly display that banner on your car, your home, or your social media page, whether you have racist intentions in doing so or not. For you, it might simply represent the fact that you’re a proud Southerner – and that may have been what the flag represented a hundred years ago – but that’s not what it represents today. This is where I would draw comparison to the swastika, which endured for millennia as a symbol of good fortune, yet represents something entirely different after the Nazis got their hands on it. (If you were to push back and say that this is an unfair comparison, you’d be asking to get into the semantics of ethnic cleansing vs. “mere” slavery. I have absolutely no interest in doing that.)
If you see no problem with the use and display of the Confederate flag today, please reconsider with the history and real-life implications of the symbol in mind.
If you’re a Christian and undecided on this issue, you have extra work to do. Learn the history, humbly listen to people who are on the other side of the conflict, and most importantly ask yourself the age-old question, “What would Jesus do?”
The Apostle Matthew recounts in his gospel the story of Jesus healing a disabled man on the Sabbath:
9 Moving on from there, he entered their synagogue. 10 There he saw a man who had a shriveled hand, and in order to accuse him they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11 He replied to them, “Who among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take hold of it and lift it out? 12 A person is worth far more than a sheep; so it is lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and it was restored, as good as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might kill him.Matthew 12:9-14
Though the Pharisees were correct that the letter of the Jewish law would have prohibited work of any kind on the Sabbath, Jesus was quick to set aside history and tradition if they stood in the way of recognizing the dignity and worth of another human being. Love of neighbor trumps love of the law.
The letter of the United States law gives you the right to display a Confederate flag on your car, shirt, Facebook page, home, or yard. But instead of running to defend your Constitutional rights, what if you instead hurried to the defense of those for whom the flag represents a long and deep history of pain, humiliation, and slavery? Is your staunch defense of your personal rights getting in the way of your ability to truly love your neighbor and recognize their humanity and dignity? If taking down your Confederate flag means even a small step toward intentionally loving your black neighbor in the name of Jesus, is it really that much of a sacrifice to make?