The Confederacy has been on my mind the last couple of weeks. I have connections with the South as does my wife. I went to high school in Little Rock where my parents still live. The name of the high school in Tyler, Texas from which my wife graduated was “Robert E. Lee,” no less.
In my reading, I discovered the plaque, pictured above, located on the Confederate monument in Arlington National Cemetery.
I am struck by the line: “in simple obedience to duty as they understood it…“.
“…as they understood it…” That’s an interesting phrase.
I’m not sure of the intent of the author who wrote it, but is he leaving open the possibility that “they understood it” wrong?
It wouldn’t be the first time.
History is filled with examples of “understanding it” wrong.
“We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.” June 22, 1633, the Church handing down its judgment against Galileo
“The earth is set firmly in place and cannot be moved. Who will dare to place the authority of this man Copernicus above the Holy Scriptures?” John Calvin
“…sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.” Capt. John Underhill, 1637, after leading a raid in which more than 400 Pequot women and children were surrounded and deliberately “broiled to death” or shot while trying to escape their burning encampment
“…if any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other God, but the Lord God, he shall be put to death.” 1641, The Massachusetts “Body of Liberties” (Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 13:6-16, 17:2-7)
“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” Rev. Richard Furman, first President of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention, 1823
“Slavery was established by decree of Almighty God…It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation….” Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America
“Wherever we have the races mixed up in large numbers, we have trouble…These religious liberals are the worst infidels in many ways in the country; and some of them are filling pulpits down South. They do not believe the Bible any longer; so it does not do any good to quote it to them. They have gone over to modernism…But every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent orthodox Christian can read what the Word of God and know that what is happening now is not of God.” Bob Jones Sr, in a sermon against integration entitle, “Is Segregation Scriptural?”, April 17, 1960
“The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.” 1980, Bob Jones III, defending Bob Jones University’s policy banning interracial dating/marriage.
“As a citizen of the US, I have a right to vote. However, I do not exercise this right, because I believe that based on the Bible, it is wrong for women to vote.” http://stevenandersonfamily.blogspot.com/2010/11/why-i-dont-vote.html
Each belief and action stated above was based on what was read in Scripture.
These folks were dead certain that they stood on solid Biblical ground (Mark Noll writes in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis that “the Bible was the prime authority to defend the legitimacy of slavery.”).
Are they just guilty of misunderstanding?
What do these examples say about the “The Bible says it, that settles it!” approach to Christian living?
How can people who were so sure of the Biblical justification for their beliefs and behaviors now be seen to be so wrong?
Maybe I need to hold my own interpretation of Scripture lightly.
Maybe I need to interpret Scripture more in light of the person of Jesus than anything else.