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.
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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).]