Where Do You Stop?

If you object to the Confederate Flag, why not to Alabama’s and Florida’s. If you notice the design, you have a diagonal cross similar to the Scottish flag, but with a white background and maroon bars. Historians of Florida are currently debating whether the Florida flag owes its features to the Confederate one. But how can you not see a resemblance between the banner of the Spanish empire and the Florida flag (or Alabama)? And how can you not remember that Florida’s European roots go back to the Spanish Empire, not to snow-birds from the Northeast?

And if the Confederate Flag has problems because of white supremacy, imagine the difficulty for Europeans who followed in the trail of the Spanish to Florida and the southeast (where the PCA hatched). Here is how Alan Taylor describes one of the Spanish conquistadors:

During the years 1539-43, Vaca’s report inspired two great conquistador expeditions northward. From Cuba, Hernando de Soto led the first to Florida and through what is now the American southeast. From Mexico, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado marched the second expedition into and across the American southwest to the Great Plains. Although officially instructed to practice restrain, Soto and Coronado instead unleashed waves of violence, destruction, and disease that devastated the native peoples in their way. . . .

Beginning in the spring of 1539, Soto led six hundred men on a violent rampage through the carefully cultivated and densely populated heartland of the Mississippian culture. The conquistadores traversed present-day Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and east Texas. . . . When faced with the slightest resistance, Soto employed terror tactics to intimidate the survivors. Some Indians suffered the loss of a nose or a hand; others were thrown to the war dogs or burned alive. Archaeologists excavating the sites of villages visited by Soto have found many Indian skeletons scarred by steel weapons. American Colonies, 72

I bring this up not to make life difficult for Florida Seminole fans (but if you’re worried about the mascot of the NFL franchise in the nation’s capital. . .) but to remind those in pursuit of racism within the PCA that they need to be careful. When a generation from now someone finds out that the folks who need to bring a 92-year old man to ecclesiastical justice for racism (even while likely celebrating the forgiveness recommended by Charleston AME church members) — when future church officers discover that the anti-racists were soft on the parts of American history and culture that brought such devastation to native Americans, will their ministry also be compromised? When they find out that ministers in the PCA who opposed racism graduated from the University of Florida and the University of Alabama and did nothing to protest the heritage of those states which included a ruthless treatment of native populations which made slavery look civilized, what will their verdict be and will today’s generation be brought up on charges?

(Oh, by the way, making these matters public via social media is not exactly the Matthew 18 model of calling for repentance and may open you up to civil proceedings. Old Life aphorism of the day: How do you know someone is self-righteous? When the rules don’t apply to them.)

If these accusers don’t stop, they will be yet the latest example of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Earth’s Holocaust,” which recounts the absurd lengths to which reformers go to arrive at a perfect society or institution, so absurd that activists forget to look in the mirror because they threw it into the fire:

“What but the human heart itself?” said the dark-visaged stranger, with a portentous grin. “And, unless they hit upon some method of purifying that foul cavern, forth from it will reissue all the shapes of wrong and misery—the same old shapes or worse ones—which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes. I have stood by this livelong night and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. O, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!”

This brief conversation supplied me with a theme for lengthened thought. How sad a truth, if true it were, that man’s age-long endeavor for perfection had served only to render him the mockery of the evil principle, from the fatal circumstance of an error at the very root of the matter! The heart, the heart, there was the little yet boundless sphere wherein existed the original wrong of which the crime and misery of this outward world were merely types. Purify that inward sphere, and the many shapes of evil that haunt the outward, and which now seem almost our only realities, will turn to shadowy phantoms and vanish of their own accord; but if we go no deeper than the intellect, and strive, with merely that feeble instrument, to discern and rectify what is wrong, our whole accomplishment will be a dream, so unsubstantial that it matters little whether the bonfire, which I have so faithfully described, were what we choose to call a real event and a flame that would scorch the finger, or only a phosphoric radiance and a parable of my own brain.

70 thoughts on “Where Do You Stop?

  1. “The conquistadores traversed present-day Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and east Texas”- I hate to start the thread this way, but just add La. on to that and you’ve got an area that’s repeating that whole PTSD circle that that African American lady was blaming the current black and white communities slavery psyche on. So, segregation and black-white racial tension is really just an left over, untreated symptom of the conquistadores mistreating the Native Americans. Damn those Spaniards.


  2. Where and when does it stop? Not till all things are made new. Transformationalism on progressive steroids. When you take up the sword of moral outrage and start swinging wildly, be careful you don’t cut off your own head.


  3. Flags are divisive and they hurt my feelings.

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    (who knows the next line?)

    Seriously though, the self-congratulatory moralists shouting down the flag in SC are Jacobins. They would be wise (as would the PCAers pursuing Dr. Smith) to recall that the Revolution devours its own children.

    A little more wisdom and little less zeal please.


  4. DG –

    A motto of the Carlists is quite apropos to our current political situation- Dios, Patria, Fueros, Rey – God, Country, States’ Rights, King. Make adjustments according to your own political beliefs – but note their idea of ‘country’ is more of a federation of states with a defined roles. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlism

    No defense of the Conquistadors from me – similarly, the commercial interests in the South American colonies were constantly rebelling against the much more praiseworthy Crown and Jesuits.

    But the behavior of bad shouldn’t be ascribed the good (the Conquistadors being a tired example- I do hope the whole Black Legend doesn’t come out in the comments).

    It is instructive to compare how the native Americans (USA territory) are doing compared with those in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, etc.

    And interesting to note that while Spain generally requires 7 years before granting citizenship, for citizens of Latin American countries this is just 2 years (Puerto Rico included).

    Also that Spanish Louisiana had a deeply fascinating creole culture – Spanish, French, African, American, German – which produced some of the glories of American culture due to its intermediary role with the Caribbean and Europe (jazz being born as much in Havana as New Orleans, only Havana had no recording studios).

    Could be wrong, but I think the D.R. is the only country outside of Asia or Africa where abortion is still illegal.

    Finally, promoting revolution throughout Latin America has been a longtime hobby of the US federal government (alongside stamping out the just rights of our individual states)- if you look around the world today, which country is behaving most like the Conquistadores of Legend?


  5. Sean –
    So, segregation and black-white racial tension is really just an left over, untreated symptom of the conquistadores mistreating the Native Americans. Damn those Spaniards.

    Take a trip to Puerto Rico in Advent sometime; better still, on Epiphany. The Three Kings take on a special meaning in the Hispanic Caribbean, representing to them the European, the African, and the Native American, the gifts each brought, to the service of Christ and the new civilization which arose from the mixture.

    In these countries today, the three races are, for all practical purposes, not distinct – check out the racial demos of the D.R. [link below] – it is the best example I know (Brazil a likely 2nd) of success in reconciling a population of diverse origins – exactly the fundamental problem of the U.S., which we never cease to struggle with, and about which we have no idea what to do.

    Good example for knocking down false diversity/pluralism, if it’s a hobby. Unlikely to get you elected to even a school board, though.



  6. Kevin, I’m not sure I’m following, so, not ‘damn those Spaniards’ but yes to mixed races even if facilitated by coercive means? Or just, yeah to interracial progeny? Then there’s my experience with Mexican culture, particularly border states, and the Spanish, Indian, Central American distinction and discrimination. I don’t see lots of shining lights when I look south but if you say the Caribbean is racial camelot, ok.


  7. It seems as though we are witnessing our nation ‘defining itself ‘ – the pendulum swinging very broadly at present…….but in time, some issues involving our history and culture will be resolved more moderately, I would venture……..


  8. Where Do You Stop?
    By D. G. HART | Published: JUNE 25, 2015
    If you object to the Confederate Flag, why not to Alabama’s and Florida’s.

    Stare decisis, of course, Darryl.

    You just opened a such fruitful vein, Dr. History, but the reply–the retort–is prudence. Unfortunately, you’d rather bleed the Church to death than dress the wound and wait for the proper time to pick at the scab.

    This was the Reformation: To save the village, it destroyed it. Both Luther and Calvin would be appalled at what they wrought: The Presbyterian Church USA [PCUSA, 1.8 million members] ordaining a lesbian couple as ministers; and the Episcopal Church, whatever that means, suing its own members who tried to break away from its heresies but keep their churches.

    If you spent as much time about unifying the Reformation as much as you try to exploit the divisions from Catholic teaching among confused [or fake] Catholics in the newspaper, I’d be way getting your back.

    Since many or most men are fakes, Pharisees, fake Catholics have always have been the rule, because until 1054 Catholic = Christianity. Until 1715 [Luther] Catholic = Christianity.

    Fake Presbyterians, well, you and your “Orthodox Presbyterian Church” rump of only 30,000 are the only true Presbytrians left. That’s why I love y’all. You are the last principled gasp of the Reformation.

    That’s why I’m here, Elder Hart. I’m writing a book on you, too. 😉


  9. Political-style maneuvering and rhetoric have overwhelmed decency on the personal side and, on the civil side, a sensibility that we are fellow-citizens who should be reasonably accommodating to make things work.

    Twitter is great. No, not really, but let’s say it’s interesting to go to the zoo. But it condenses (while magnifying) the us v. them, winner-take-all mentality that now prevails. So the symbolically correct confederate flagster has no empathy for those who quite reasonably find the symbol oppressive. And, while accusing the “other side” of irrationality, they engage in their own historical revisionism to scrub the symbol clean.

    Operating under this same dynamic, there is no empathy for a man who was born in 1923. “Our side” must confront him. “We” must ride the wave while we have the upper hand. We will not try to understand him or have a sense of proportion for what the man has done in his life.

    It’s not an age of decency, and both sides share the blame.


  10. I can’t wait to read Old Life when Darryl’s 92.

    The film to see on Indians getting revenge on Conquistadors is Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre: The Wrath of God”. It’s awesome.


  11. JAS, at the next PCA GA they can have everyone stand up who is over 65. Note who they are, investigate all of them, call them to repentance on whatever is found, revel in our smug self-righteousness. Of course, we’ll have to talk about it on Facebook so everyone can see how correct we are.


  12. I’m a recent member of the PCA who grew up in the North and was born and raised in Dutch Reformed circles. So I apparently don’t appreciate the PCA’s hand-wringing about racism, although the CRC has done more than its fair share of hand-wringing over its guilt about its Dutch-centric view of the universe.

    That said, I find Randy Nabors’ actions nauseating and the worst type of Evangelical self-righteous moralizing. If you feel compelled for the sake of the church to take action against a church officer, do it through the right channels and don’t turn it into a public display. As the Curmudgeon said, we’re all products of our time and place in ways that we don’t even realize, so I’m certain that 50 years from now, my children and grandchildren will be embarrassed by some of what I said or believed, just like I wince at some of what my ancestors said or believed. Let’s get over it.


  13. Publius: Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    (who knows the next line?)

    Sad how this man who penned Happiness is a Warm Gun in a few short years was left reduced to releasing this totally whipped song….


  14. CW,


    Taking the PCA one step further down the path from gospel-focused, to gospel plus social justice, to social gospel, to eventually full apostasy.


  15. Nabors is the young priest confronting Eastwood in Gran Turino. Hopefully Smith will go all Clint on Nabor’s a…


  16. Can we at least agree that Mississippi’s flag is absurd? That a state in the current union ought not to have a flag that bespeaks rebellion?


  17. Gay resentment of polygamous (largely religious) people will resemble feminist resentment of the transgendered.

    These are mindbending times we live in. Just buy some popcorn, get a lawn chair, and be prepared to be amazed for the rest of our natural lives.


  18. Kennedy tipped his hand on polygamy. As long as it can not be shown to not be harmful to women and children there is no reason it won’t be legal, and probably sooner than we think. Ross Douthat has touched on the topic recently.


  19. We’ve touched on the question of admitting gay married couples in P&R churches. What about the polygamous? We certainly have biblical examples of polygamy. Officers must be “husbands of one wife”, but what about non-officers? Is it a violation of natural law? Adam had but one wife, but King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

    Dude did not get much sleep.


  20. EC, that’s small potatoes. We’ll see people marrying robots.

    I feel sorry for 20 year olds. They’ll have to deal with all kinds of issues that I would have never imagined at that age. But then I won’t feel sorry for them when they confront me on my rocking chair for whatever issue I’ll be wrong on. Really, I think I’ll be proactive. So I’ll go to a bar where humans and robots mingle and light up a cigar.

    God is dead >>> natural law is dead >>> eh, whatever.


  21. Actually, a conservative denomination like the RPCNA has upheld polygamous marriages in an unusual circumstance (their African mission). If I remember the stories correctly, you had men converting into the church that were married to more than one woman, and the church decided that these marriages should continue. Were these people to move to the US, do you want the government to not recognize their marriage?

    Of course, I think “conservatives” are getting back what they’ve been demanding. They wanted a government big enough to define and promote marriage and family, and now the big government is happy to do just that- on *their* terms. Wouldn’t it have been better to repeal the government’s interest in marriage in the first place? Clearly, that isn’t appealing to conservative-progressive society transformers, but it wouldn’t have allowed the collateral damage that’s sure to come.


  22. I think it’s time to ban the United State flag. Whereas the Confederate flag was never used for ethnic cleansing, the Stars and Stripes did wave proudly over the ethnic cleansing of the Indians. I find the Confederate flag to be far less offensive, as it at least stood for idea of secession- which is a very American idea.


  23. Eventually we’ll get back to where a 23-year-old man marrying a 21-year-old woman, having 4 kids with her, having her stay home to raise them, and staying married to her until she’s old will be a novelty. Christians will be on the cutting edge. Not sure this is the coolness the skinny-jean-wearers were seeking.


  24. I’m going to enter a polymarriage with my wife and my house. We love our house and no antiquated notion of foreclosure should be able to take it away!


  25. EC,

    My kids are still young enough to generally think I’m cool and worth listening to. I’m trying to soak in every second of it.


  26. DGH, interesting question.

    I’m enjoying your Reformed Forum series on Machen during my subway commute the last few days.


  27. “Aquirre” and “Fitzcarraldo” should be required viewing for all NAPARC officers.

    Great similarities to trying to shepherd a NAPARC church in the 21st century.


  28. I am not a polygamist, but depending on how this Doug Phillips thing comes out, I may be willing to try…


  29. Random thoughts on lost causes:

    William Faulkner on the Morton Smith-#PCA affair: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

    Kev Russell of the Gourds: “Somehow my losing just comes natural / like a southern democrat /
    Nostalgia haunts my memory / and stands in my path”

    And a 2K song by Russell:

    (spoken intro: My Uncle Jimmy also lived next door to a Church of Christ. And the preacher would come over sometimes and he’d hide his beer and his cigarettes…so I wrote a song about it)

    I could tell you that I was a christian
    And I don’t guess that would be a lie
    I could tell you that I was church of christ
    And I don’t guess you could prove me wrong
    So don’t trouble no policeman
    He’s got a wife and kids of his own
    And don’t trouble yer neighbor
    Cause they just want to be left alone
    I suppose if I was a demon
    I might have bugs all over my legs
    It might make sense for me t’tangle
    With my wife for awhile
    So don’t trouble no policeman
    He’s got a wife and kids of his own
    And don’t trouble yer neighbor
    Cause they just want to be left alone
    Lord ain’t this nation lonely


  30. Now, they’re gonna scrub clean the General Lee? How stupid and silly is this gonna get? If you’re an African American, how ‘whitewashed’ do you really want this to get? I have some sympathies for removing it from edifices of state power and representation, but I don’t think you want this totally forgotten and erased from the books. Aside from the PTSD theory of white-black racial relations, maybe part of what elevates you is what you endure. From another angle, I would rather know exactly who and where my opposition lies. From yet another angle, how boring. I think I want particularity of character, even if I find it/them offensive, to no character at all. PC guts and doesn’t offer anything in return.


  31. Morton Smith has had half a lifetime to disavow his segregationist and kinist positions, but has not done so. His book (“How the Gold Has Grown Dim”) is still published in all its original glory, including the approval of segregation in the church. I heard him give a public address (sparsely attended, thankfully) on Presbyterian church history several years ago in which he repeatedly referred to “Nigg-rahs” and “Nigg-rah” churches. We were all very embarrassed by this, and at the time chalked it up to the eccentricity of old age. It was only a few years later that I found out about his past, and was shocked that he still apparently felt this way. Yes, any movement for justice can become a witch hunt, but I don’t think the PCA’s recent actions are even close to that. This was long overdue.


  32. Mike C., so it’s all better now?

    Do you know that folks in the PCA love Jonathan Edwards, who owned slaves? I’m pretty sure they were African.


  33. Seriously? I think there must be better arguments than that. But let’s tread along the edge of your slippery slope. If a PCA elder were advocating today for segregated churches, would his Session be wrong to denounce his position and pursue discipline? And how is his position different from an elder who advocated the same thing in the past, has not disavowed it, and continues to publish said position today?

    And no, if I have to be making this argument with someone of your intelligence, then things are obviously not “all better now.”


  34. Mike C., of course things aren’t better now. We have moral perfectionists like you to have to live with.

    The issue here isn’t racism or slavery, though I’m sure you’ll disagree. I oppose both, though I think you’ll have a hard time making a biblical case that both are wrong (the first is anachronistic — and maybe the Israelites were a tad “racist” — and slavery was not condemned).

    The issue is precisely the one you describe. Is someone still guilty for views they held 30 years, 20 years ago? And are those who think someone is guilty of past views obligated to follow Matt. 18 and Presbyterian procedures? Or does their moral arrogance allow them to go public and condemn without a hearing?

    I think I know you’re answers. And you’d be there in Hawthorne’s story, throwing the pages of the Bible on the bonfire once you realize that slavery isn’t evil according to Christ and the apostles. Heck, Paul even called Christians “slaves of Christ.”


  35. Mike,

    While I agree Smith’s comments are worthy of rebuke, it is the manner this was done that raises many questions.

    Why wait until now? His writings have been around for a long time. If nobody has formally rebuked him for decades, is it proper to begin the process with a man in his nineties caring for a sick wife? Since the denomination has not pursued discipline all this time wouldn’t it be more gracious to let a man die in peace and deal with the view itself? Why not just denounce his views? And in the pursuit of discipline, why not go through his session? Was his own oversight left out of the picture? That is not how things are supposed to be done in Presbyterianism. And why was the confrontation published on social media the day it occurred. Do you understand that if a local minister published a private confrontation with a man in his church without the man knowing it would be made public, or before the man responded, that minister who made that confrontation public would himself to subject to sessional rebuke and even discipline? Why can they get away with it at the denominational level but not at the local level? Can you see why the way this was handled smells of opportunism and showmanship?


  36. Mike, hope you save some disappointment for yourself. You wouldn’t want to end up like Bob in the Big Kahuna who doesn’t have regrets because he doesn’t think he has anything to regret. As if.


  37. Let’s hope the PCA takes the beam out before looking through the microscope:

    We find in the admin-speak of higher education the word “microaggression,” which seems to mean that anyone who takes me outside my comfort zone with a challenging opinion is out to get me. I want to be secure in however I identify myself as a particular person, and I’m convinced that anyone who criticizes or even disagrees with me is driven by irrational animosity. One irony of the word microgression is that it refers to aggressions that can only be seen by a microscope or are invisible to the naked eye. To purge the campus of microaggressions means to make it place where there’s absolutely no controversy at all. That means taking out even the aggression that most people couldn’t actually see until the experts call it to their attention. How is that possible? The big questions of life have to be regarded as settled — or beyond controversy. We sometimes now say they’ve been settled by History, and those who say otherwise can be dismissed as being on the wrong side of History. That would mean, if you think about it, that we’re at the end of History, and that we achieved wisdom when it comes to liberty and justice and all the relational “issues” characteristic of free, interpersonal life. Because we know what justice is, we can limit academic freedom by academic justice without losing anything real or true.


  38. Todd, thank you for your thoughtful questions. I appreciate that you believe Smith’s comments are worthy of rebuke, and not simply harmless “microagressions.” All the more so to my mind as they continue to be published today. This is not an isolated radar blip that came and went 50 years ago.

    Let’s assume, though, that your preferred option is the proper one: that the PCA should simply denounce Smith’s views. If that option is proper, then why all the concern about Matthew 18 in the first place? If the PCA can denounce his views without following Matthew 18, then who cares about social media leaks–this is all immediately public anyway, right?

    Hopefully you don’t buy the argument proffered by the blogger that Darryl linked to in his main article: that the present case is analogous to the “spectacle” of trying old Nazi war criminals. That’s a pretty unfortunate analogy, to say the least, as it casts old Nazi war criminals in a sympathetic light–fairly high creep factor there. Sadly, that didn’t keep GPTS from citing the blog approvingly, and thanking the blogger for publishing it. And sadly, I’m afraid that the Smith defenders’ arguments may get weirder before this is done. I hope not.


  39. Mike, anything you won’t to get off your chest about your earlier years or sins of your parents or grandparents? You seem fine with the concept. How do you feel about Jonathan Edwards?


  40. And, Mike, if you live in North America there’s a good chance that the land you live on (or own) was taken by the genocide or swindling of indigenous peoples. How do you live with that? Check the post title and the calendar again. What’s your statute of limitations?


  41. “Let’s assume, though, that your preferred option is the proper one: that the PCA should simply denounce Smith’s views. If that option is proper, then why all the concern about Matthew 18 in the first place?”

    There wouldn’t be concerns if all they did was denounce his views of race. But some took it upon themselves to begin the Matt. 18 process and personally seek repentance. My only point is if you are going to do it, do it right, which keeps it private at first and goes through proper channels. We should not know about it at this stage.

    “Hopefully you don’t buy the argument proffered by the blogger that Darryl linked to in his main article:”

    No, I don’t buy that argument


  42. And Mike,

    Doing it right would include doing it years ago, not now. A man at that age deserves his peace. And again, his age and place of residence reflects a common view from those times. Simply show where they were in error and that should suffice.


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