Rage and Statues


In June 2015 my husband and I went to Charleston, SC, to visit family. The shooting at Emanuel AME Church had just taken place and everyone was in shock and grieving. We walked around the area and saw the many, many flowers, crosses, and other tributes laid there.

When we arrived in town the previous evening we learned a controversy was brewing over the Confederate flag that flew on the State House grounds in Columbia (where we went to college). Many people were calling for it to be taken down. Others were saying it had a historic right to be there.

I felt undecided. I thought it’s generally not a good idea to erase history. On the other hand, the flag wasn’t expressing something people still feel; it’s a mere marker of something that happened long ago. It’s like a tombstone. But, on another hand, we don’t take down tombstones. Even Hitler has a tombstone, I suppose.

So my thoughts were going back and forth. As we came to the front of the church, I noticed one of the signs there. It said “Take Down the Flag” and then in smaller letters, “It hurts us.”

Those words changed my mind in an instant. It hurts them! That went right to my heart. Well, take it down, then! That flag doesn’t represent something people believe in and want to restore; there’s no public movement to secede from the Union and establish Confederate states. It doesn’t represent current beliefs and convictions, only commemorates something past. It’s OK to take it down.


So, when I see statues like this one (George Washington) destroyed, I try to make room first for that thought, “It hurts us.” Like this:

When I see George Washington splattered with paint, I understand how it could be painful for black people to see any white person elevated as a hero. George Washington and other pre-Civil War leaders were able to accomplish what they did because of slaves who cooked their food, made their clothes, reared their children. Under the base of their statues lie hundreds of slaves.

But, unlike a Confederate flag, a statue of George Washington represents beliefs that are still strongly held. He is an exemplary hero and stands for the basic ideals of a country, which many of us still share and love. He represents something that is alive, not a cause that died long ago. A segment of society should not trample on the beliefs of another segment.

The other question is where would it ever stop? There is a kind of blood-lust that comes with destruction. It is never satisfied. How does that intoxicating rage to destroy get turned around and begin to build?

Any kind of positive goal will require unity with all the other Americans. But why would a newly empowered and respected minority even want to forge ties with the old majority? Why would they put down their weapons and embrace friendship and common cause?

Why would they want to have peace at all? Anger and hatred are intoxicating. Eventually the war against the enemy turns inward; members criticize and condemn each other, and struggle for power. A movement starts eating its own leaders. In communist prison, people imprisoned for their Christian faith might get a new cell mate who used to be a communist leader—maybe even the same judge that condemned them to prison. Interpersonal trust breaks down, and it becomes a war to preserve your own welfare against everyone else.

How does that intoxicating rage to destroy get turned around and begin to build? Does that *ever* happen, or is it just one coup after another?

Is it possible to have one nation, after all? Or are we beginning an endless process of destruction?

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

Christian Life


  1. I am interested in hearing your reflections after the Jan 6 insurrection when confederate flags and nazi symbols along with many, many, many christian symbols were in use as people violently mobbed the Capitol building and tried to stop the certification of the vote. What has happened in these churches that support Trump above all else? What about christian intellectuals like Eric Metaxas who said he would fight to the last drop of blood to support Donald Trump staying in power? I continue to reach out to people who are caught up in these delusions and I try to remind them of the Beatitudes, but they accuse me of being part of a vast conspiracy against Trump and God. I am in mourning. My heart is broken.

    1. FMG: I’m with you, Edie. That was a horrifying day. I would want to differentiate the Arizona shaman and blatant racists from more-benign Trump fans who got swept up in the mob psychology of the day; I don’t want all Christians to be categorized as racists because some of the Capital crowd were. But the bottom line is that it was a really horrifying day. I hope some of those more-benign folks learned a lesson about the dangerous company they were keeping.

      Rod Dreher, Eric Metaxas, and I became friends in the 1990s, and for many years had a small and lively email group we called “the Pogos.” Over the years we remained in touch and got together whenever we met up at events and conferences. It was always such a cheerful friendship that it’s heartbreaking, now, to see what’s become of him. I can only say that this appears to be a powerful delusion, afflicting not Eric alone but many other Christian leaders. Yes, heartbreaking.

  2. Thank you for your calm words. I live in the midst of people who believed the election was stolen, people who believed what they were told by authority figures they had been taught to believe. In the area where I live and work, so many people believed that and many still do. These are my neighbors, family and friends. Many supported StoptheSteal and sent money, went to rallies, etc. So yes, I totally understand how people got swept into that. I work in conflict transformation, mediation and peace-making so I understand that coming to understand the truth of these situations is very difficult for people who have been deceived into hating and distrusting their own family, neighbors and friends,, deeply shaming and uncomfortable. I try to work on this every day. I wish our churches taught more of the process of truth and reconciliation, both in our inner soul conflicts and in our conflicts between neighbors, family, friends and within our communities. There is so much wisdom in the truth and reconciliation processes. My training comes through the Mennonites and Quakers, but I know that in the Middle East, Orthodox and Anglican Christians also have worked hard at conflict transformation in the larger societies . . . . as in South Africa. Oklahoma did some work on Truth and Reconciliation in the 90’s around the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. And renewed that process a couple of years ago. I think the whole country. needs this right now.

  3. Hello Frederica. I’ve been a pro-life reader for a long time.

    On a trivial note, Hitler does not have a tombstone. Allied soldiers buried his body, but the location is still unknown.

    It was a conscious decision not to have a tombstone or even a known grave so as not to create a shrine for Nazis.

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