The western United States has received a welcome reprieve from devastating firestorms that claimed many lives, destroyed thousands of properties, and cost billions of dollars. We should all pray that 2018 will be more kind to these areas and that life and homes will be spared.
Meanwhile, we in the east have experienced some firestorms of our own. Though not comprised of physical flames and damaging heat, the arguments, riots, and anger expressed over confederate statues have raged over the last many months and at times have flared up into deadly civil unrest. And although the flames may be out for now, the embers that can ignite hazardous conflagrations smolder just under the surface.
The inescapable fact that many southerners owned slaves, supported slavery, or fought to preserve this evil institution is an unholy blot on our nation’s history. Even some of our nation’s founders one hundred years earlier espoused the same ideals while others did oppose them. The inability of those men to resolve the slavery issue early on led to the Civil War that took 620,000 lives and left bitter scars, some of which still refuse to heal.
Thankfully, we have outlawed this peculiar and evil institution although the prejudices that fueled it continue to reveal themselves in sad and damaging ways. Of course the latest dust up in this continuing saga involves the statues, place names and recognitions that honor southern leaders.
One important truth that this conflict reveals is the sinfulness of even the best humans. Many of the Confederate generals were men of deep faith and great character. America would be hard-pressed to produce more virtuous men than Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. These men were staunch in their faith and demonstrated it in many acts of benevolence throughout their lifetimes. Yet even the best of them, and us, had and have moral and spiritual blind spots that lead into sinful attitudes and actions which inevitably hurt us as well as others.
The shortcomings of southern heroes are not unique. Northern generals too had their vices including Grant’s alcoholism, Sherman’s vindictiveness, and Sheridan’s ruthlessness. In addition, while many of them fought to preserve the Union, some had no higher opinion of blacks than did their southern enemies. We all have our own iniquities. Even the great civil rights advocate, Marin Luther King, Jr. had faults and failures that eliminate him from being the perfect role model.
This ongoing life-draining argument underscores the importance of not elevating any human to a status none deserve. Although we can and should strive for perfection, we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. As such, any time we unreservedly honor any human and give him or her the position of role model, we must do so with an awareness of their failings that should not be celebrated or copied.
Is it possible to emulate the good while repudiating the evil? To eat the meat and spit out the bones? Can we honor someone without endorsing everything they believed or did? There seems to be a lot of judgement from a society today that frequently quotes, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” This quotation is almost always yanked from its context and used to justify the most abominable of modern sins.
Perhaps this is one reason God gave us the Second Commandment which tells us not to make any graven images. He knows how dangerous that can be because we are prone to unquestionable loyalty and imitation which quickly spiral downward into sin and depravity. His Son, Jesus, is the only human we should follow unconditionally.
This also reminds those of us in leadership positions, whether as parents in our families, officers in our church, or managers in our businesses, to carefully guard our own thoughts and behaviors as others are following our examples. Let us be especially careful not to be swayed by cultural norms that can lead us to accept evil without thought even as southern leaders did with slavery. How will future generations judge us? More importantly, how will God judge us?
In addition, let this be a reminder to always look to the perfect pattern of Jesus. While other humans can and should inspire and set good examples for us, ultimately, they must never be our model. Jesus must be. Let us copy and follow Him today.