Mississippi Confederate flag

Andy Stoddard: A Mississippi Pastor’s Reflections on Romans, Southern Heritage, and a Contested Flag

on June 29, 2020

Andy Stoddard is the Lead Pastor of St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Madison, MS. He is a proud Mississippian and hopes for a better day for all her citizens. He wrote this statement on his personal Facebook page on the morning of Friday, June 26. Republished with permission.

UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church on pressing issues of denominational concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.

 

I went looking for this book [The History of the Confederacy: 1832-1865 by Clifford Dowdey] this morning, but I had tucked it away in a corner of our computer room when we moved. I was given this book when I was a junior in college. I remember getting it, because I’m not a big birthday person, and some dear friends threw me a surprise party. One of my closest friends gave me this book. Why? Let me tell you.

I grew up as basically an only child, so books were my best friends. I spent countless hours at the old McComb Library (shout out to Mrs. Mattie!) I read everything. But I was always fascinated by the Civil War. I checked out every book I could. I read about the Shenandoah Campaign. About Stonewall and how if he hadn’t have been shot, the South may have really won! The thing that ultimately undid the South was the industrial might of the North.

I was hooked. I went over to Grand Gulf and got replica Confederate money and kept it under my bed. I had maps of all the battles. And that Ken Burns documentary? Don’t even get me started. I bought the soundtrack on cassette and listened to it every day on the way to school.

In school, I was blessed with amazing teachers at Bogue Chitto (a large number of African Americans, of which I am so thankful for to this day). But I remember loving my English classes so much, we talked of Shakespeare and Wordsworth and language, and we learned that the South was the only portion of our nation to have ever lost a war, and after that, we lost everything. Add to it the depression, and we Southerners, especially we Mississippians didn’t really even know that we were poor. We just were.

But that poverty was a blessing; it shaped us. It made us storytellers and produced Faulkner and Welty and Tennessee Williams and so many others. It gave us a sense of pride of place. And it fostered our love of football where on Saturdays the Civil was played out again, but this time we (the SEC) beat the Yankees (the Big 10). Sincerely, I hate the Big 10 to this day.

I had a book of wisdom of Robert E. Lee. And to a young boy, trying to figure out his way in the world, being from the South really defined me and gave me purpose. So when my friends gave me a surprise party, this was the perfect gift. I loved it. Read every page.

But something happened. I began to read a lot of other things. Phillip Yancey. Brennan Manning. Really homed in on the Gospels. I began to be mentored by people like Dr. Harold Bryson at Mississippi College. And I began to make other friends and began to see that this thing that gave me great pride and defined me brought to them not pride but hurt. The CSA generals that inspired me because they whooped the Yankees in the War of Northern Aggression, to these new teachers and mentors, they had been fighting to keep their ancestors in chains. I began to see that something that had given me pride brought only pain to these people who I loved.

I had to choose. Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” These echoes from the noble old South remain. But I saw the pain that this caused to so many who I loved. And I chose to let go of my fascination and love of the Old South and choose instead to hold onto these relationships. And hold on to where I felt like Jesus was leading me. Paul says in Romans 14: 15 – For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. My choice in this matter brought pain to those I loved. It did. It simply did. I had to decide if I could live like that. It was hard. But I know that it was and remains the right choice.

But I still get emotional when I hear “From Dixie with Love.” I still hate the Big 10. I am still very, very proud to be a Southerner and Mississippian. Only once in my life did I ever seriously consider leaving Mississippi, and that was after the election over the state flag in 2001. I heard so many times if you don’t like it, leave! And I thought, well, I guess I am no longer welcome here.

But this was my home too. I love Mississippi. I love the South. As I tell folks, you may move north of Memphis, but God didn’t call you there. I love our hospitality, our welcome, our manners, our humor, everything that we are.

I love our state. I am proud to have lived nearly every moment of life here, and I plan to be buried here. I want what is best for my kids and hopefully one-day grandkids. But my pride looks a little different now. I urge our leaders to replace our state flag with one that can unite all of us as Mississippians. And help us to show others why we are truly the best place and state to live in.

 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Shortly after the Rev. Stoddard posted these words, both chambers of the Mississippi state legislature overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill to remove the iconic Confederate battle flag as part of the Mississippi state flag. It now heads to Governor Tate Reeves (R).]

  1. Comment by David on June 29, 2020 at 6:38 am

    Colin Woodward wrote “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” in 2011. To an amazing degree, these current regions still reflect the character of their founding centuries ago. What is termed the “deep South,” which originally excluded Georgia, was founded by planters from Barbados landing in Charleston, SC. They wished to establish a slave state similar to what they knew in the West Indies and the rest is history. While ending slavery was noble, Lincoln’s idea of preserving the Union was likely a historical error.

  2. Comment by William on July 2, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    Buchanan fumbled the secession question and is viewed as perhaps the worst president in American history. Lincoln really had no choice but to aggressively address secession head on after succeeding Buchanan and his ineptitude and incoherence on the issue. Now, had Lincoln been another Buchanan, refused to intervene militarily, and eventually recognized the Confederacy as a new country — would we now be living in one of various small independent of countries across what is now the United States? From what’s being observed in the public discourse now, especially from the anarchists— they likely would see James Buchanan as one of our greatest presidents — that is if they happened to be residing in one of these countries that retained the original United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

  3. Comment by Dan W on June 29, 2020 at 10:22 am

    The confederate battle flag was very much a part of the Georgia “brand” in the 20th century. It flew at amusement parks, stock car races, festivals, even at Atlanta Flames home games (National Hockey League.) The battle flag was 3/4 of the 1956 Georgia state flag, which was flown on every school and state building until the late Nineties. In school in the Seventies, we were not taught this flag had been adopted as a protest against school desegregation, the Voting Rights Act and the end of Jim Crow. I learned these facts as an adult, mostly from a diverse set of friends and coworkers. The 1956 flag was officially abandoned in 2001 for the “Barnes flag” (unpopular,) then two years later Georgia adopted it’s current flag. In the last 20 years the Georgia brand has moved away from the antebellum South, but we should be careful choosing which monuments and memorials to eliminate. Our children and grandchildren need to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes.

  4. Comment by Manifest Destiny was not meant to be suicide on June 29, 2020 at 10:47 am

    David,

    Sadly your conclusion about whether Lincoln should have persevered the country is often stated but is never correct. A rump Southern nation run by a small group of the rich upper crust Democrats would not have survived as a nation. As slavery became less and less economically sustainable they would have tried to turn the western territiories into ‘Bleeding Kansas’ over and over again, while in the North the Abolitionist movement would have grown in power and influence until a war was inevitable.

    The Confederacy was doomed from the day South Carolina seceded from the US, and if Virginia had not gone with the South the war would have ended quickly. When Lincoln got the opportunity to make the Civil War a battle over slavery and preservation of the Union he assured himself of the support necessary to prosecute the war.

    Obviously the worst problem the South caused was the permanent weakening of the power of states against the Federal Government, an issue that grows to be a bigger problem every day. It is amazing to think that within three decades of the ending of the Civil War we had the weaponization of the Federal Government by President Wilson that is now at the point of destroying the country permanently.

  5. Comment by Bad typist on June 29, 2020 at 10:49 am

    Excuse the mistyping, that is three generations, not three decades as posted above.

    Sorry

  6. Comment by David on June 30, 2020 at 6:40 am

    Prior to donating them to the State Library, I had over 100 letters written to my great grandfather by his brothers who were in the Civil War. These spanned the whole length of the war. I was always taken back when one wrote of his disgust with the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s changing the purpose of the war from preserving the Union to raising up Blacks to the level of the Whites. Of course, this was just one man’s opinion though he states “everyone” was of the same mind. The brothers were in a New Jersey regiment.

    It always strikes me that in almost every divisive issue, except perhaps the use of Federal lands that is more of the Western thing, the country divides along Civil War lines. One has to consider how many improvements in society we could have were it not for Southern opposition.

  7. Comment by Rebecca on July 3, 2020 at 11:10 am

    We aren’t divided along Civil War lines now. We’ve been invaded by foreign ideas and are fighting a culture war, where both the North and South have been infected with totalitarian ideas. The Marxists/atheists decided a long time ago, that they wanted a one party, two class system in America, the rulers and the ruled. They picked the Democratic Party to be theirs, and want to get rid of the Republican Party. This has been obvious to people in the South for a lot longer than those in the North.
    And, anyone working in politics at a local level, especially in the Democrat Party in the North, would know it has been taken over by atheist Marxists.

  8. Comment by Mark on July 3, 2020 at 4:17 pm

    In 1838 England, under Prime Minister Wilberforce, ended slavery by purchasing the slaves from their owners. Expensive? Yes, but less expensive than the war. The South was stripped of its wealth/capital and has suffered since. Slavery was morally wrong, no question, but was legal in Southern states. It’s a shame we didn’t handle it like England.

  9. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on July 6, 2020 at 9:23 am

    Mark, your history is incorrect. William Wilberforce was never prime minister, he was a member of parliament from Hull and later Yorkshire. He died in 1833. Wilberforce was a key figure in ending the slave trade in 1807. The Slavery Abolition Act passed later in 1833, abolishing slavery in most of the British Empire.

  10. Comment by Sam Currin on July 3, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    Had the South been allowed to peacefully secede, it eventually would have ended slavery on its own and today it would be the greatest country on earth. We would not be held hostage by the cultural marxism that has been foisted on us by northern politicians. The tragedy of the Civil War was totally unnecessary.

  11. Comment by Jason King on July 7, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    Well-said, Sam. The leaders of the CSA would have ended slavery on their own, but the Union gave in to the Radical Republicans & abolitionists. The states were believed to be sovereign individually by a large percentage of leaders, and it was actually taught that way at West Point.

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