Earlier this month the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial was defaced by rioters. Ironically enough, this memorial was in honor of the first all-Black regiment who fought during the Civil War. They were heroes and those who dishonored their memory probably would not have done so had they known history.
I am pondering this movement to sanitize our history. Civil War monuments are being removed or defaced; street names are being changed; the Confederate flag is coming down. It is a paradox. On the one hand, I see why the Black populace is offended by any amount of honor and recognition given to their oppressors, and I agree with them. On the other hand, we are called to remember the pain and the providence of the past; if we do not remember, how can we learn?
Great need and great wrong-doing pave the way for great provision and great courage. If we attempt to forget the past because of its darkness, we will also forget the beacons of light that shone brightly in the midst of it. And if we remove all markers of the past because they remind us of injustice, how can we chart our change for the better? Perhaps we should view these monuments, not as symbols of honor but as warnings to not repeat the travesties of the past. And next to them display monuments of history’s hidden heroes- those who, with courage and conviction, countered the evil surrounding them.
In Joshua 4, God commanded that memorial stones be set up so that children would inquire about them. Parents could then explain how God caused them to cross the Jordan River on dry ground. Why did they need to remember? “...so that all the people of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.” All of history is an interweaving of evil and good, despair and hope, depravity and redemption. God allows us to experience the weight of our sin so we are confronted with our need for a Savior. American history is one example of this and our need for Jesus has not changed.
When we attempt to deny the darkness of yesterday, we will also forget those who held up their lanterns to reveal a better way forward.