Fallen Statues and the Arrogance of Moral Superiority

Confederate statues are falling. Some are delighted. Others are dismayed.

I am far less concerned with the statues than I am intrigued by how those statues have revealed a strain of moral arrogance within the American populace. To put it bluntly, we think we’re better than past generations.

Our sense of moral superiority is currently directed against racism, and specifically at the evils of the Confederacy. This present generation views the Civil War generation—or at least the Southern part of it—as a monolithic collection of knuckle-dragging haters. Any suggestion whatsoever that men who served the Confederacy possessed admirable attributes is shouted down in a hail of angry salvos—the verbal equivalent of Molotov cocktails. The morally superior demand a blanket condemnation of all Confederates, for our moral indignation suffers no nuance.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to see the South rise again, and I am convinced that racism is a wanton repudiation of the Bible. Nor do I believe that monuments of Confederate leaders must remain in order for our nation to remember its history. Were every statue removed, the national wounds of Antietam, Shiloh, and Gettysburg would remain. No exercise in monument removal can scour the Civil War from our collective conscience.

Nevertheless, current rhetoric and actions in reference to Confederate monuments spring from this assumption: I would not have been on their side had I been alive then, and therefore I am morally superior to them. Surely I would not have been a slaveholder; would not have supported slavery; I would not have been a Confederate.

Such views are self-serving and presumptuous.

Technology advances from generation to generation; clothing styles change; political winds blow. Human nature remains unaltered. Each person within every generation is conceived and born in sin. For each of us the assessment of Jeremiah 17:9 rings true. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Even as the Apostle Paul acknowledges in Titus 3:3, “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Paul did not escape that indictment. Neither did his audience. Nor do we. Moreover, Paul did not say that later generations outgrew his assessment. Society does not evolve to a higher morality, and this present generation possesses no moral advantages over the generation that we are currently disparaging. Instead, Paul continues in Titus 3:4-5, writing, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” We are not morally superior to Confederate soldiers; we are merely immoral in different ways. We all stand in need of a Savior.

An old phrase thus comes to mind: But for the grace of God there go I. If you are not a racist, if you rightly condemn the evils of slavery, and if you could not dream of having supported the Confederacy, then thank God. It is due only to the grace of God that you were born in a different time and place, and were subject to better influences. You possess no moral superiority, and neither do I. We possess only the grace of God that has prevented us from becoming the very racists that we now abjure.

No racist will be cured of his racism by removing a statue. None will suddenly see the light because he has been called a hater. The grace of God in Christ Jesus alone will deliver us from being “hated by others and hating one another.”

All the moral superiority is His.

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