Somehow, we’ve come to a point in our culture where historical figures must be fully aligned with our ideology or they are not worthy of consideration, much less honor. If such people are, from the point of view of current trends, no longer considered worthy, or they failed in some aspect of life, then no matter what their achievement, they must be rejected, condemned, or simply ignored.
The problem with this all-or-none, you’ve-got-to-love-me-AND-love-my-dog approach is that virtually no one qualifies. So, no achievement, irrespective of its value to humankind, can be lauded because, well, the achievers were flawed, meaning most often that they didn’t agree with me or I don’t agree with everything they said or did.
But let’s do a reality check. No human leader or scholar or philosopher or hero or inventor or change agent or world class athlete or beauty queen or artist or politician, preacher, or professor, much less celebrity, has it all together and is without flaw. None.
The Scripture puts it this way: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). Yet God loves us all: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God understands the tug-of-war of good and evil in every human heart.
In the current cultural zeitgeist, it seems no historical figure, despite considerable laudable achievement, like Columbus or Martin Luther, the until recently properly appreciated Founding Fathers, the revered Washington or Lincoln or TR, or latter day MLK Jr, not even the earlier day Moses, David, or chief of sinners the Apostle Paul, is truly worthy of recognition if they are perceived as imperfect per our ideology, e.g., they owned slaves, they were a womanizer, they were rich…
I am not, of course, defending wrong-doing or misjudgments or outright sin. I am simply saying no person is perfect, no one fully and completely aligns with all other people’s ideological perspectives, which by definition are many, distinct, and perhaps contradictory.
Certainly, I am not perfect, nor is the person who lives for a time in the White House or sits on the throne of the United Kingdom. In fact, the only human being who lived a perfect life is God-Incarnate Jesus Christ.
So pulling down statues might be appropriate or it might not—either way, the decision should be made by duly elected representatives, not mobs—but this, along with sanitizing history books or museums of the presence of certain people, don’t accomplish much, unless indeed a serious review has taken place that can demonstrate the figure’s bad outweighs the good. I’m not closing the door on this, just saying kneejerk social media reactions aren’t the best way to determine who should or should not be honored.
This discussion brings to mind one of my highly-respected grandfathers, who served as a wise deacon for 40 years, and was regularly sought out for counsel by young and old from several counties around. He is the spiritual patriarch of our family. Yet when I was very young I twice heard him make comments about race or Catholicism that in contrast to the rest of his gracious life and jovial personality were and remain rather shocking. But I understand these comments as representing areas of his life that his well-developed Christian worldview and the Spirit of God had not yet penetrated. Had not yet convicted. Had not yet transformed. They do not discount all else that he did. And the memory makes me consider, what will my grandchildren remember about me?
It is possible to give honor to whom honor is due without lifting the person(s) to a godlike pedestal. It is possible to appreciate and value human achievement and legacies without certifying the person(s) who gave us these gifts as perfect. It is certainly possible and admirable to recognize and appreciate people whose contributions blessed the world, even if those people did not necessarily, even in fact likely did not, align with yours or my views. To reject such people is to miss the opportunity to demonstrate grace, perspective, and nuanced understanding of the interplay of good and evil in the heart of every human being since Adam and Eve.
Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2017
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