Preachers, Please State the Obvious

what to do if there's a Confederate battle flag flying outside your sanctuary

Over the holiday weekend, my husband and I went on a road trip into the Shenandoah. We’ve explored Staunton before, so this time we headed a bit further south, to Lexington. Those thirty extra miles made a huge difference, dropping us from northern Virginia into southern Virginia. Or perhaps it was the timing of our visit.

Uppermost in our mind was the federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But it turns out that the Lexington area simultaneously celebrates a state holiday called Lee/Jackson Day. We were clued in by seeing a group of people marching and waving flags — the battle flags of the Confederacy. It was a disturbing sight.

The corner where they were marching happens to be the site of the Lexington Presbyterian Church. (Being church geeks we slow down and read the sign of every church we pass.)

On Sunday we returned to that corner to worship at that church. The congregation is obviously a strong institution doing many things right. The greeter and other worshipers gave us a warm, but not obnoxious, welcome. The music featured a gorgeous organ. The texts for the day were taken from the lectionary, and the preacher had a fine sermon based on the passages from Isaiah and First Corinthians.

But something basic was missing. During the service, not a mention was made about either holiday, or what they mean. Perhaps living with institutions like Virginia Military Institute and Washington Lee University inure a person to certain historic realities. Whereas I was still catching up with some basic facts. I hadn’t realized, for instance, that Lexington was the burial place of Stonewall Jackson, or that Robert E. Lee had actually served as President of Washington Lee University. (DUH. I know.)

Still, if I were a visitor with no ties to the Presbyterian church, I would assume that the church didn’t say anything about the matter of racial equality because it has nothing to say, even on the confluence of these historic days. That grieves me.

Please, my preaching friends, let’s take time to state the obvious. Because to too many people — even fellow Christians — certain things are no longer obvious.

As Christians, we stand against racial injustice, in its historic forms, and in its present forms. We stand with Jesus for the full equality of all humans. Racial inequality is sin.

As church leaders, the question is: How does that stand drive our church’s mission? The answer will depend on context. I’ve never pastored a church in the South, so perhaps I’m missing some foundational fact. But it seems to me that when you stand in a place that waves confederate battle flags on Saturday, the church needs to have a clear message against racial injustice on Sunday.

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