The process by which we effect change is as important as the change itself.  The men and women who founded America understood this.  They knew that a revolution poorly constructed would only lead to replacing one tyrannical government with another, replacing one agent of subjugation an ocean away with a new one next door.

There is now a groundswell of momentum to remove monuments in America that both memorialize and glorify people from history who held abhorrent views on slavery and made substantial effort to sustain the trafficking of human beings for economic gain.  I believe the decisions regarding these monuments should be made by the people whose taxes are being used to maintain them.  Many of these monuments are being maintained by local cities, towns, and communities.  I want local governments to be empowered through the process of elected officials.  And these elected officials should be bound to a legal decision making process.

For example, this quote comes from the City of Newport News' website.  "The City of Newport News is administered by a Council-Manager form of government in which six citizens are elected from three districts...The City Council establishes the City's public policy through resolutions and ordinances, approves proposed programs, and controls the funding of these programs.  City Council is guided by the City Charter; as adopted and approved by the Virginia General Assembly, and by its own rules of procedure, resolutions, and ordinances."  Even if I disagree with an outcome, I am comforted by the process.  To forsake the process so I can gain a more favorable outcome is dangerous.  Eventually the erosion of a legal, democratic process will more consistently victimize every citizen.

Every community should have a process for changing the names of schools, government buildings, streets, parks, etc.  Every community should have a process for deciding how tax dollars should be spent on public property like monuments.  The inherent nature of such a process in and of itself is deeply beneficial for a community because it always involves dialogue with people in a community who have competing views.  When communities are talking, exchanging and debating ideas...civility and restraint tend to displace violence and anger.

The statue at the center of the protests in Charlottesville is of Robert E. Lee.  In 1917, Paul McIntire purchased a city block and donated the property to Charlottesville for the purpose of erecting a statue of Robert E. Lee.  This was the first of four parks Mr. McIntire donated to the city.  This particular park was named Lee Park.  The park's name was changed to Emancipation Park in June of this year, 2017.  The process by which the community decided to change this name and the name of Jackson Park to Justice Park was in accordance with Charlottesville's legal, citizen voiced through elected officials mechanism.  These parks should now have new monuments that reflect their new meanings:  Emancipation and Justice.

My complaint is that Charlottesville will probably not continue this "march" to the University of Virginia.  I call this the bias of economic benefit.  How much of Charlottesville's economy is dependent upon UVA?  Much.  I think it would be fair to say that Thomas Jefferson is both celebrated and gloried there.  How biased is Charlottesville because of the economic benefit they enjoy through UVA?  You might argue that Thomas Jefferson started UVA.  Paul McIntire donated a park for the purpose of erecting a statue.  A park is less controversial because it is less economically important.  Don't misunderstand me.  I'm not saying the statue of Lee should have remained.  I'm saying that every community needs to decide what is best for themselves.  I just find it difficult to applaud a city for removing a statue from a park that now bares the name Emancipation but the park so named is adjacent to a University that bares the name of one of America's most prominent slave owners.

If I lived in Charlottesville, I would have supported changing the park's name and I would have supported removing the Confederate statue to be replaced with a statue that better reflects the vision and values of our future.  But I would also be saying, let's keep going.  Let's not stop here.  You might argue that UVA is a state school.  Fair enough.  But I guarantee you that no change will come to the associated heritage of that University without Charlottesville being the epicenter of and the impetus for that change.

A friend whose critical thinking always challenges me to be more disciplined in my process of reason asked why then do we esteem people from Scripture who owned slaves?  Does that make us hypocritical?  Let's try this by comparison.  If you picked up your child from Sunday School, Kid's Church, Bible Study, etc...and realized they were challenged to emulate Robert E. Lee as a church going, God fearing man, you might take issue with that.  But if their lesson was on Abraham, I dare say no parent would have a moment of hesitation.  Are we hypocritical to esteem men and women in the Bible who owned slaves?  My initial answer to my friend was a lazy response.  I said we should be inspired to mirror their virtues and learn to avoid their vices.  Would that be enough of a defense if my sermon this weekend was extolling the virtues of Jefferson Davis?  Clearly no.  But why then is it acceptable for Abraham and other Biblical historical figures to be honored?

I believe the canonization of Scripture was directed by the hand of God.  The New Testament as we know it today was ratified at the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.  The books we find in the Old Testament were already widely accepted by then.  These were not the arbitrary decisions of men in my belief but men acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to validate the sacredness of certain books/letters and hold them esteemed above all other writings.  This was already the widely held view of Christian churches in the world at that time.  The Council of Carthage was affirming what the Holy Spirit had already revealed to Christian leaders in local churches.

This is at the center of why we esteem people like Abraham and others in spite of their human failings, some of the most egregious of which was human trafficking for economic gain and sexual pleasure.  God has the sovereign right to choose the people He wants to put forward for humanity to esteem.  He made those choices through the canonization of Scripture.  While they are historical figures, they hold a place in history unlike in any other.  They are not only in world history, they were chosen by God to be part of the Biblical narrative.  So yes, we do strive to mirror their virtues and avoid their vices.  However, the reason celebrating these historical figures is not hypocritical for Christians is because they are the people the Creator of the Universe chose to be our examples in spite of their human failings.  As a pastor, I must be cautious and discerning of the people in history I encourage my congregation to emulate.  But the people in history who are also part of the Biblical narrative, God has already approved of their use for teaching and instruction.

But for the record, if I had to choose one person/human in Scripture for a statue, I'm choosing the little boy who gave his lunch to feed the masses.  There are few moments in Scripture as innocent and faith filled as that moment.  If his heart were more frequently found in ours, there would be no hate in our cities.

Pastor Fred