COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Recent eruptions of violence over Confederate symbols like the rebel flag have prompted impassioned national debates — and not just in the public arena. Churches, too, are wrestling with the question of what to do with emblems dotting their parishes that memorialize the former slaveholding states and their battle heroes.
It’s in part the continuation of a conversation that was sparked when self-avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African-American parishioners during a Bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Roof was seen brandishing a Confederate flag in photographs that surfaced after his arrest. He is currently on federal death row.
The shock and turmoil of the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E., the South’s oldest black church, prompted the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. And then came Charlottesville, Virginia. When violence erupted there in August at a rally of white nationalists opposed to the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, calls for taking down Confederate monuments accelerated.
Many churches date back to Civil War times and beyond and found themselves on the side of the pro-slavery South when their sons marched off to war. The war ended, as did slavery — but the racism did not.
“You do have an identifiable connection to the Confederacy,” said Doug Thompson, history professor at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He said Episcopal churches prayed for the president of the Confederacy, not the Union, during the war. “Episcopalians have built into their very structure an attachment to this national identity.”
Just steps away from the Statehouse, the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is wrestling with Confederate ghosts. The South’s Gen. Wade Hampton and its poet laureate, Henry Timrod, are buried on the parish’s grounds. A plaque in its sanctuary honors members who died in the Civil War. However, the church doesn’t allow the display of Confederate flags, and the Very Rev. Dean Timothy Jones said Confederate flags recently placed on soldiers’ graves were removed.
“I care deeply about how historical symbols can create hurt and communicate a message of discrimination,” Jones said. “We believe in redressing the terrible wrongs of slavery and affirming the dignity of every human being.”
Several weeks after the church shootings, delegates to the national Episcopal church’s convention passed a resolution calling for the removal of Confederate battle…