History, Idolatry, and Mississippi's flag

On Saturday, June 27, the Mississippi House and Senate passed a resolution that allows lawmakers to change the state flag. My home state is the last to remove an image of the Confederate battle flag. And I want to be among the first of native sons to celebrate the courage of these legislators.

I am not motivated by political correctness, nor merely social justice. Others, like Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Seminary, have published more complete and compelling reasons for change.

As a “redeemed Mississippian,” (as I've contributed in the forthcoming Heal Us Emmanuel) I bring my own personal story and gospel motives to this issue.

In the Letters of C. S. Lewis, I once discovered this quote: “It ceases to be a devil when it ceases to be a god.” Inspired by that quote, with added insights from Dr. David Powlison on addictions and idolatries, I often say to my fellow followers of Jesus:

“When your gifts become your gods they become your devils.”

All good things in your life — your talents, treasures, family, ethnicity, and history — can be received as God’s gifts and used to serve God. But they can become your idols (false hopes) if you look to them for your identity, purpose, or significance. I must choose between a grateful heart, or heartbreaking idolatry. Am I devoted to the Giver, or destroyed by my false hopes? And false hopes can include persistent idolatries like racial supremacy or lost cause mythology.

I saw a graphic on social media (I am very rarely inspired by a meme). In a cartoon, Moses is seen destroying the “golden calf” which had become an idol, Israel’s false hope. But the Israelites were shouting, “No! Moses! You are tearing down our history!” But Moses destroyed the image and made Israel taste its bitterness. Yet Moses also recorded the story and did not destroy the history of Israel’s sinful idolatry — and it remained as a warning for all God’s people — both present and future (Exodus 32:20, 1 Corinthians 10:6).

Not everything in our history is good. We must remember — in parts of our story, we got it all wrong. As was repeated throughout Israel’s history, we can profess to trust and serve God — while we continue to sacrifice on the high places — even high places, idolatries, that so persistently cling to our hearts.

I am proud of Mississippi’s legacy in America’s cultural experience: Leontyne Price, Charley Pride, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Eudora Welty, Will Campbell, Tennessee Williams, Oprah Winfrey, William Faulkner, Jim Henson, Elvis Presley, Morgan Freeman, Sela Ward, Faith Hill, B. B. King, James Earl Jones, John Grisham, Jimmy Buffett, Walker Percy. These and others are celebrated at “The MAX” in my hometown (a shameless promotion).

All Mississippi citizens, of all colors, take part in a rich cultural tapestry. The “1894 Flag” will be remembered as history; but in museums, not lifted up on high places for her citizens’ allegiance.