A Christian friend recently backed out of an interview because of my willingness to work at a radio station studio in which hangs the flag of the Army of Tennessee from the War to Prevent Southern Independence.
I turn over this page to him. Please read Mr. R.’s comments with a generous heart, and see the good points he makes in his brief letter. Mr. R. is certainly admirable, and I believe he should be heard because he has a virtuous and generous impulse that is most Christian. He takes into account perspectives I am perhaps by limits in my experience incapable of entering easily into. You may think that I am a decent essayist, a fair journalist and a reasonably good talk show host. But in Mr. R. you meet someone whose depth is greater than mine, and for whom I would suggest a respectful audience.
I am afraid I will have to cancel the radio interview scheduled for tomorrow. In doing some research on the station and your show, I cannot in good conscience, participate in a program endorsing the confederacy or localism in the form associated with southern regionalism.
I believe such forms of localism to be a variant of pagan tribalism, which powerfully undermines healthy, gospel-affirming forms of localism and free markets, to say nothing of its many disastrous effects on the national and international stage. In addition to undermining the message of the gospel and the work of Christ’s kingdom, Southern localism or regionalism (aka “states’ rights,” etc.) sadly continues a long history of being used to justify some of the most insidious forms of hatred, inhumanity, and terrorism in our country’s history.
Subtler forms of such localism, as expressed by white flight into suburbia/exurbia, have proven, ironically, to be extremely detrimental to public institutions, local agriculture, and the general health of cities and communities. Based on past and present experiences of disenfranchisement, discrimination, and other harmful policies and attitudes, the banner hanging in your studio brings great pain (physical and psychological) and sorrow to many in the body of Christ, as well as those to whom the body is called to minister. It thus violates my church membership vows to study the purity and peace of the church.
(Of far less significance, it would also involve a betrayal of the Southern Unionist heritage of the great majority of families in this region of Tennessee.)
I was extremely disappointed to find this symbol and the sentiments associated with it as an ingredient of your broadcast and your website. You are obviously intelligent and articulate, but I fear that you have yet to be exposed to the sort of havoc that those deeply ingrained Southernist values have created in our community and nation. I simply cannot participate in the public promotion of the symbols and values described above.
Is localism poisoned by reference to Confederacy?
For one, the radio station does not belong to me. Its owner graciously gives me use of it. Were the station mine, I would probably have mounted an image of a brightly colored rainbow rather than the flag of the Southland from 1861. But the owner’s decor does not offend me, and is not intended to offend anyone. As does the Tennessee foot soldier Sam R. Watkins in a memoir, I take the South to represent political and economic self-determination — states’ rights, if you will. The studio also presents a federal flag on a microphone; that flag, as Mr. Watkins puts it, represents “the doctrine of centralization” (Co. Aytch, p. 22).
The South fought a war to defend a distinctly Christian political order (though, indeed, it was influenced by Freemasonry), an Agrarian way of life, and a war that defended slavery not so much in its purpose, but by default. Slave labor was used in the fields. The North had slavery, too, and blacks in Yankee territory were freed well after those were in the South. The North was Unitarian in principle, the salt of its Calvinism having lost its savor, and ideological in its operations into the wider world. The South was peopled by rough, independent men, largely Christian, sympathetic to the Westminster Confession of Faith and other expressions of reformed theology. Most fighters had no slaves, and just wanted to be left alone.
Mr. R. is a man of great character, intellect and Christian virtue who thinks constantly of Christian reformation and witness, particularly for the glory of God and the benefit of black children in working-class Chattanooga neighborhoods. I offer Mr. R.’s words in hopes that insofar as he is right, you can avoid the errors of head and soul of which he suspects me. If my affinity with the South is a fault, if it is a sin, it is important for you to avoid it.
My argument is for the sovereignty and goodness of God in all things. I believe in God’s grace, and the irresistability of His goodness, and incredible superfluity of His bounty and blessing. My argument is summed up this way: Christianity is about Christ, who is the Giver of all mercy to sinners; implied in God’s grace is self-government, the free market, liberty, prosperity and the slow but ever sure growth of the house of God, the church.
Fighting centralization since 1861?
The Confederate flag represents not terrorism, inhumanity, discrimination and disenfranchisement, but a countervailing force against humanistic tyranny in the form of the federal power. I say only that this power, as represented by a second banner in the radio station (the federal flag, as seen two posts ago) is more evil than that which flew four years over Richmond, Va. The banner of the federal union represents untold miseries worldwide, those belonging to empire. It is the banner of ordnance raining down from the clouds — 500-pound conventional exploding eggs, and two nukes against civilian cities. It is the power of inflation exported worldwide since the 1960s. It is invasions of countries and secretive wars against population in Africa, its elastic commerce clause, its gay rights and — well, I’ll stop.
The concepts of localism aren’t poisoned by the Confederate flag any more than they are by the concepts connected with the Yankee banner and its 50 pentacles. ‡ The validity of the arguments aren’t damaged by the aura of symbols. Being in a forum where a flag flies doesn’t commit the visitor to the doctrines represented by its symbols any more than being quoted by a leftist newspaper makes the interviewee a leftist or an interview on Fox News makes a person a supporter of conservatism.
As for Mr. R.’s statements about my views being akin to those of pagan tribalism, I will have to try to assimilate that and discuss it later. Localism favors the small, yes; but tribalism is an identification of blood tie. Even if Chattanoogans become more localist in their outlook, we are too much integrated and mediatized to be tribalists. We may be Southerners who don’t favor Yankees, but I believe it is impossible for us to actually become tribalist.
‡ The pentacle, the five-pointed star used in both flags, is an occultic symbol connected with the pentagram that shares history with other symbols of paganism, the Kaballah and Freemasonry.