As you can imagine, my publications on slavery, racism, southern secession, the Civil War, etc., have not necessarily received the warmest welcome from exactly everyone. Some have felt I have “turned my back on the South,” others that I “hate the South,” and yet others that I have become a full blown progressive liberal. While much could be said about this, the counsel of a couple friends has induced me to offer a brief explanation, and an apology.
More than one close friend (and a few not as close, but still friends) has engaged me with their concerns privately. Most I have had the privilege of sitting with face-to-face over the issue. Each has involved some time of mildly passionate discussion. Most have included time covering one or more typical objections or, to be blunt, myths circulated by neoconfederate apologists, southern sympathizers, romantic southern Presbyterians, “Lost Cause” propaganda, or similar such sources. But not all.
In each case I have listened and not argued, except to answer questions or challenges obviously offered in the form of those myths or standard objections. In each case, I have spent 90 percent of the time just listening. I have responded without prompting only to those very obvious inaccuracies or absurdities that, if assumed, would make further discussion pointless. When I have spoken, I only have done so with basic objective responses to claims, and calmness—not once with argument or ridicule (which, in some cases, some of the myths deserve).
Then, usually, something happens—something common to most of the instances. After a period of discussing a variety of different common objections, the discussion has become personal from the correspondent. “My ancestor(s) fought in that war. They were very poor subsistence farmers. They never owned slaves.” In some cases, this is accompanied by, “They were only defending their homeland from invaders.” This can come in variations, of course, I only summarize here not to get sidetracked. The point is, in most cases, when all the direct objections and myths are cleared away, the main motivator of the dislike of some of my postings on southern secession and slavery have been an emotional tie or a memory of loved ones.
I am not trying to psychoanalyze the situation, or minimize it, nor even criticize it. I am not sure, exactly, what all else may be attached to some or even any such common denominators. I would venture to guess that at a least a few have an underlying hint of “They were not fighting for slavery. They were not racists [like your article suggests].” I have perceived a hint of vindication, but not always.
The main point is that what seems to be the most powerful motivator behind most of these reactions has been personal attachments to one’s feelings of one’s ancestors—far more than anything else. No one wants to think their family was party to that great evil. We all want to find that niche in which our ancestors were above reproach. But for some, this goes so far as to say that they were not only without reproach, but totally beyond it, totally exonerated.
I am not sure exactly how far to go in trying to address this particular motivation. I have considered, however, that this small sample is probably representative of a larger one, and that means, for some, the message probably needs to be presented in a bit gentler way at times. By no means does this mean the message should be watered down or compromised—trust me, again, the book will not disappoint in this regard—but it does mean that for some readers we need to be a bit more pastoral along the way.
In this light, my recent articles on Robert E. Lee and others, have been probably unhelpful to some degree in certain circles. They have come across as a provocative and unnecessary ton of bricks. I have a strategized theonomic agenda at play (I admit), and in the end I do not believe anyone who takes Scripture seriously will be able to object to it, no matter how uncomfortable the history. Yet in hindsight I have provided very little of my larger picture to help bring readers along. At least two have told me privately that once they understood my “end game,” they were better able to understand and get behind me. Due to this lack on my part, I have written some pieces and posts that have not met at least a part of their intended audience “where they are,” but rather as if they were across a line in a battle field—which, in some of the intended minds, is probably still lined with Napoleon cannon.
While I still stand by the truth of every word, claim, and argument made there, I acknowledge that it will be, at this point, extremely, painfully difficult for some people to receive for other reasons that are not so disagreeable on the surface. There are, of course, different types of people in this class. Some are simply still racists and white supremacists. These will not listen to anyone, and must be rebuked with the truth and then left to Satan. Another type, however, has been driven to defend one side of things out of strong reactionism against the left. These will distance themselves from the evils of American slavery and racism in the abstract, but would still read and laugh with Dabney as he ridicules the egalitarian feminists. They think Lee is the closest thing to a saint, and not because they are evil white supremacists themselves. They are brothers and sisters, whom I love, though I believe they have been deceived and beset by unnecessary fears.
Some of these, perhaps even of a slightly different type, are beset by a deep fear that any compromise on the issue of race will be a capitulation to the left which will only empower the left toward its larger agenda of total control and the stamping out of Christianity. Some of these, therefore, think my compassion on the race issue is utterly misguided, misplaced, dangerous, and a capitulation on my part, and they meet me with all the ridicule they would the left.
Those among this latter group must be shown, ultimately, that the error of defining who you are by what you are against will defile even the best of conservatisms. Biblical law simply makes greater demands on us that either conservatism or progressivism can accommodate. More importantly, the biblical model is to clean our own house first and to hold authority to a higher standard of accountability than the people. You can harp on Hillary and all the alleged “cultural Marxist” conspiracies you want, but you accomplish nothing until you reform your own self, home, church, and parties first.
The task is, I acknowledge, large and weighty, and it is precisely for this reason that it has some delicacies to it. There is a time to be sensitive and a time not to be. I have a doctorate degree in not being sensitive. I have in a couple places rushed ahead with the bludgeon before equipping those who should be fellow soldiers, and convincing those who can be convinced of the larger plan of action. I got myself to a point, but have neglected to help others get there too. For that neglect, I apologize. I will attempt to be more sensitive to that in the future.
I only ask, for now, of those among these earnest Christians who harbor the strongest sympathies for their ancestors and acceptable traditions, etc., the following: consider the deep level of feeling you have in this regard when your ancestors and their way of life is implicated. Consider the pride and loyalty, and all the vicarious sentiment that derives from those historical ties, bonds, relationships. Consider how it makes you feel—hurt, torn, defrauded, libeled, enraged, wronged—when everything that is good about your heritage is ignored, dismissed, or maligned, and everything that was wrong is magnified. Consider how you feel when these things bother you today. . . .
Then consider that blacks have feelings just like you do. Only, theirs are attached to deeper wrongs and evils, blood and degradation, utter dejection and powerlessness, rape and murder, compounded as scars upon scars by decades of mistreatment, contempt, and the sustained, outright denial that any of this reality should bother them today.
I am probably not the first one to note that some of those who seem the loudest to object to the removal of Confederate statues because “Our heritage!” are also the first and loudest to complain of the observance of Black History Month. Apparently, our heritage matters, but theirs does not? You should be offended when someone pokes at your hero, but they are ungrateful, unpatriotic agitators when they are offended at the trampling of theirs?
My rule is the one Christ and Paul taught me: those who desire mercy ought to show mercy. Those who desire compassion ought to show compassion. Those who want others to bend, ought to bend twice as hard. Those who think they should have thicker skin ought to show a little themselves. Those who make demands ought to bear demands. Those who ask others to sacrifice, ought to give of themselves first.
The facts of history will not in any way sustain a rosy picture of the Old South or her ecclesiastical apologists. My book (for which the manuscript is now complete and under review by a third-party publisher) will show this. I was overwhelmed by how thoroughly this is the case. Every beta-reader and proof reader I have had read it so far has had the same reaction. I will quickly apologize for unnecessary affronts and provocations, but I will not apologize for the message, nor the tidal wave of that message that is about to come.