Life A.M.E. (After Mother Emanuel), can be different. If we keep eating and praying together across the racial divide, we can permanently add to our famous Palmetto values.

In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt suggests that there are five essential moral frameworks: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity. The weight we give to each determines our individual political and religious outlook.

Those on the left have cornered the market on Care and Fairness. Those on the right are wedded to Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity (or what I call “Sacredness.”) Sacredness is particularly interesting. One of its manifestations, according to Professor Haidt, is to place strong value on objects and symbols.

During Governor Beasley’s flag fight, I wrote an op-ed for The State newspaper. Exuding the values of Loyalty and Sacredness, I said:

If by moving the flag…we could witness the dawn of a new era of goodwill, that would be a positive development. But to bring down the flag in the current atmosphere may only tarnish, not honor the symbol. The first step is to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. If we can do that, the battle flag, wherever it flies, will offend no one.

I was young and thin on life experience. My Loyalty to Confederate dead and holding the flag Sacred rested on the fact that my grandmother had been active in the United Daughters of the Confederacy to memorialize her ancestor’s service. I had been involved with the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the same reason. These two groups, as Governor Haley described, “view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity, and duty…a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict.”

But what of the other moral values, Care and Fairness, in my 1996 op-ed? I was in the right ballpark by calling for “an atmosphere of mutual respect,” but the sting in the tail was my assertion that the flag should be inoffensive “wherever it flies.” Quite a line in the sand if the goal were mutual respect.

Mississippi author Walker Percy once wrote: “When Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia laid down the Confederate flag in 1865, no flag had ever been defended by better men. But when the same flag is picked up by men like Ross Barnett and Jimmy Davis, nothing remains but to make panties and pillowcases with it.” One only need search Google Images for “Confederate flag James Meredith” to see its appropriation for evil purposes.

The voice on my road to Damascus was that of Anthony Thompson. It was Thompson, husband of Emanuel victim Myra Thompson who said: “I forgive you, my family forgives you. Give your life to the one who matters the most: Christ. So that he can change it.” Thompson’s amazing words of testimony created a spirit of grace that invited a response. I pray that spirit will never leave me or my beloved state.Since Mother Emanuel, I am convinced, actually more than that, convicted, that to seek mutual respect, I should abandon my rigid demand that others always use my prism when viewing the Confederate flag. (Columnist David Brooks has called this prism, which sees the valor and honor that Southern soldiers clearly exhibited, “the Robert E. Lee Problem.”)

I’ve also learned this: “an atmosphere of mutual respect” takes grace, but it also takes intentional interaction across the color line. For well over a decade, a Christian racial reconciliation lunch group led by Bob Johnson and Hal Stevenson has been meeting. The day of the flag vote, sensing their date with destiny, the group assembled at the statehouse. Their voices filled the rotunda with that song written by an ex-slave trader, “Amazing Grace.” An admitted Johnny-come-lately, it was my honor to work with that racially and denominationally diverse group at the statehouse that day, praying with black and white legislators and branding them with a simple Amazing Grace lapel sticker.

Life A.M.E. (After Mother Emanuel), can be different. If we keep eating and praying together across the racial divide, we can permanently add to our famous Palmetto values of loyalty and sacredness that other virtue a scholar might call Care or Fairness, a virtue that we like to call Grace.

Dr. Oran Smith

Former President & CEO


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