Hello, I’m Pastor Pillow!
Hallelujah! Glory be! Can you believe we sold 30,000 Confederate Flag leather Bible covers from the Cubic Zirconium Cathedral Ministries online bookstore this past week? Now I can finally make the down payment on that Hawker 800/800XP twin-engine jet I’ve—
Sorry, it’s your author Arik Bjorn here.
I hate to do this, but Pastor Pillow’s cartoon fundie villainy can’t come out and play this week. Yesterday, I stood in the midst of history, so I’m putting the minister in the ventriloquist dummy box.
Please open your hymnals to No. 626.
Behold, a Special Edition of the Christian Right Weekly Round-Up!
Wow. Where to start?
So, a few months back, I purchased a Nazi swastika armband on eBay.
Hmm, too early for that. How about…
At 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, I was awakened by a text message from a famous activist filmmaker who asked me to zip down to the South Carolina State House grounds to help film the pro-Confederate Flag Rally—this just hours after the Confederate Flag was temporarily taken down by a brave activist named Bree—
Well, not quite right, either. Let’s see…
As I drove home late yesterday afternoon to write this column, exhausted from a day of standing in the midst of history, I suddenly remembered one of Lenny Bruce’s most controversial jokes:
If Jesus had been killed 20 years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.
Perfect. If you read that line carefully, you’ll never look at a Christian Cross the same again. Or an electric chair, for that matter.
Symbols. We laud them. Extol them. Fight for them. Transfer into them all of our spirited care on certain subjects. We even die for them.
We love symbols so much, in fact, that sometimes we cover our symbols with symbols. You may have noticed Facebook’s current celebratory “Celebrate Pride” filter. I have yet to see a Crescent profile awash in rainbow—that would certainly be a Skittles fruit-flavored spin of that symbol. (In the meantime, there’s this Crescent Rainbow Flag. And here’s one of a Cross and Star of David just to keep things balanced.)
However, there comes a time when every community—even a community with a sacred First Amendment—must decide which symbols are appropriate to represent “the whole.” How the sensus communis (common sense) arrives upon such decisions can be a bit messy—like a leper colony that goes into the sausage-making business. Our country is presently, messily undergoing such a determination with respect to All Things Confederacy.
In light of numerous, recent high-profile killings of minorities, millions of individuals across the nation are more than a bit frustrated to see the Confederate Flag and other Confederate States of America symbols in formal, governmental settings—and, frankly, anywhere else. The horrific, racist murders at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston were a breaking point. Then, as a most cruel insult, the casket of murdered South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney was carried past the Confederate Flag that, by law, flies like a defiant hood ornament at the fore of the South Carolina State House grounds.
The Confederate Flag and Confederate symbols harken back to a past when minorities were not free—nor even considered full human beings. Of course, the United States of America itself is guilty of that crime. Ultimately, the nation began to change, yet some states attempted to break away and form a separate nation, the Confederate States of America, insistent that slavery was here to stay:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” (from the Mississippi declaration of secession)
Since that time, the Confederate Flag (in all its iterations) has been used widely as a symbol of racism and organized hate. Yet there remain those who claim that this symbol can just as well be actively used to represent “heritage, not hate.” Heck, I was even told by several “heritage” demonstrators at yesterday’s pro-Confederate Flag Rally that the flag is a symbol of anti-slavery and love. Sure, just like the rainbow is a sign of Mike Huckabee’s pure affection for the LGBTQ Nation.
Let’s take a step back and consider how another country deals with an equally messy symbol: Germany and the Nazi Swastika. (By the way, you don’t have to agree that the Swastika and Confederate Flag are equivalent symbols—just that they’re equally divisive.)
As stated above, not long ago, I bought a Nazi swastika armband on eBay. I needed it as a prop for a screenplay video teaser about Hans Litten, the first victim of the Holocaust. The armband was for none other than the character of Adolf Hitler. (Watch the screenplay teaser here.)
Never will you find a serious German politician, let alone one contending for the leadership of the country, insisting in 2015 that the Nazi swastika is “part of who we are. “Nor would you be able to stock up on kitsch, ‘nostalgic’ Nazi memorabilia. There are no vainglorious monuments to Nazi leaders lining German city squares; instead, in the heart of the capital, sits a painful testament to collective guilt and the horrors of the past.”
I remember how nervous I felt waiting for that armband to arrive in the mail. What if something on the outside of the package somehow indicated what was inside. “SWASTIKA WITHIN—QUESTION THIS HUMAN BEING’S MORAL CORE!” I get a similar feeling when a guest enters my home and sees my copy of Mein Kampf on the bookshelf—a title I used as research for my screenplay.
Even though I use these objects to demonstrate the evil of Nazism, I recognize that the community at large, including myself, finds these symbols utterly offensive. Common sense dictates, “These objects gravely disturb the community. Even if I have a right to purchase and possess them, I should use them respectfully for their intended purpose, remembering the millions who died under their banner.”
Granted, I don’t have to act respectfully. If I want to behave like a jackass with these symbols, I am in many ways permitted to do so in the United States. But governments should not make active use of grossly offensive symbols.
By the way, you may find it interesting that Germany razed Berlin’s Spandau Prison in 1987 following the death of its final prisoner, Nazi leader Rudolf Hess. Why did it do this? To prevent the place, the very soil, from becoming a neo-Nazi symbol—a point of convening.
Germany could have preserved Spandau Prison and maintained it as an historical memorial. After all, this is the place where Hans Litten and Hitler’s other major political prisoners were first incarcerated. But the voice of the community declared it a symbol not worth maintaining at all. Today, this space houses a supermarket.
Now, back to Confederate symbolism.
The past two weeks, I participated in two major anti-Confederate Flag rallies on the South Carolina State House grounds. Thousands gathered. Both events were peaceful, the demonstrators civil, though adamant. Strangers handed out water bottles to the sweating masses. People engaged in vibrant discussions about history and political process. The only disturbing act I encountered was a man who kept ringing a cowbell during the speeches.
Saturday, however, I was roundly brought face-to-face with the “Heritage, not Hate” community. It would be an act of great Southern kindness to refer to the behavior of this group of pro-Confederate Flag demonstrators as “entirely opposite” their political counterparts.
I was informed by one demonstrator, who was vastly proud that he is “all over the Internet right now,” that Dylann Roof’s use of Confederate symbolism was no different than the Gold’s Gym shirt and Nike shoes he wore. I was told by a number of demonstrators that they would “break my face” if I took their picture. One of my friends, who was carrying her baby, was threatened to be shot for holding up an anti-Confederate Flag poster. (A police report was filed.) I was told on several occasions that I do not live in the United States but rather in the “Occupied South.” Every off-key rendition of “Dixie” seemed to be followed by a chant for secession or in praise of firearms. I watched a honking (honky) caravan of F-350s encircle the State House grounds every five minutes, an occasional middle finger thrusting out a passenger window at anyone who cried, “Take it down!”
There was a man in a red “SECEDE” shirt on the State House steps. When I asked him what his shirt meant, he said, “It’s time for the South to secede!” I asked what was “the South.” He said, “They know.” I told him the statue of George Washington behind him likely would not approve.
And do I even have to say anything about the bass-ackwards activism of anyone who splashes a largemouth bass across their sacred flag of heritage?
The time for dialogue is over. Both sides have spoken. And Common Sense finds the “heritage not hate” side of the coin utterly wanting.
In the name of Civilization, it is time for local and state governments to honor the fact that Confederate symbols represent hate to millions of people—to the community as a whole. These symbols inspire murder and other crimes of wanton ignorance. Common sense dictates that they should never again be used as hood ornaments for any seat of government. At best, they belong in museums—and let’s be clear about that: these symbols should be treated as historical artifacts, not objects worthy of shrines.
If you find yourself on the “heritage, not hate” side of the issue and are frustrated by these symbols no longer being sold on Amazon or at Walmart, well, tough. No company is obliged to sell them. So go buy some construction paper and crayons in the meantime, or wait until a company stupid enough to suffer the wrath of the market-based economy is willing to sell them.
And, Mr. President, may the United States of America in all its various communities “find that grace.”
(If you’re simply dying for a Cubic Zirconium Cathedral Ministries fix, tune in to this past Wednesday’s Prayer Meetin’ Wednesday on The Head On Radio Network; Brother Bob Kincaid and Pastor Pillow go off the charismatic chain starting at the 13-minute mark. And guess what, there’s plenty about the Confederate Flag in there as well.)
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