As Christian leaders in Burke County, we write expressing our sadness at the construction and ongoing display of two enormous Confederate Battle Flags along Interstate 40 at the Burke/McDowell and Burke/Catawba County lines. Regardless of the intention of those who have chosen to display this symbol, over time for many people it has become inextricably linked to a shameful history of racism, segregation, and intimidation of minority groups. Furthermore, displaying these symbols in two of the most high-profile and highly trafficked areas in Burke County communicates to many a message of insensitivity.
While we are well aware of the history of Burke County, and respectfully acknowledge the part that many citizens of Burke County played in the Civil War, we are also aware that this history is nuanced, and sometimes retold in a problematic way. Such an extreme public display of a symbol that certainly has its place in history but has all too often been used over the years to promote racial segregation and other social ills is not something to be proud of or to celebrate. Rather, this action demands careful self-reflection and repentance.
Though we may differ on certain points of Christian doctrine and other issues, all of us strive to lead our respective congregations to model the way of Jesus, who taught love, compassion, and mercy, and whose attention was always attuned to those who were being put down and pushed aside. As the Apostle Paul reminds the Church, “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Thus, we strive imperfectly but sincerely to follow Paul’s example and to “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
While we do not know the intention or the thoughts of the property owners and supporters of these displays, we respectfully ask that they carefully consider how their actions create fear in and cause harm to many in our community. We pray that they will be led to replace these divisive symbols with symbols of unity so that we may work together to repent of racism and other sins in ourselves and in our community for the advancement of Burke County and for the building up of the Kingdom of God.
Pastor George Logan, New Day Christian Church; Pastor Tommy G. Carpenter, Third Creek Baptist Church; The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church; Pastor Wayne Arthur Johnson Sr., Shiloh AME Church; The Rev. L. Elaine Hall, Pastor, St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church; The Rev. Deacon Michael Jenkins, Deacon, Grace Episcopal Church; The Rev. Dana McKim, Pastor, First United Methodist Church; The Rev. Dr. Andrew B. Smoke, Pastor, Slades Chapel AME Zion Church; The Rev. Burt Williams; The Rev. John Hagmann, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church; The Rev. Kevin Frederick, Pastor, Waldensian Presbyterian Church; The Rev. Paul Carlson, Co-Pastor Calvary Lutheran Church; The Rev. Lauren Carlson, Co-Pastor Calvary Lutheran Church; The Rev. Carol Morgan; The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Bland Jr., Pastor, First Baptist Church of Morganton; The Rev. Tyler P. Roach, Minister to Youth & Family Life, First Baptist Church of Morganton; The Rev. Fred Schuszler, Minister of Christian Education & Spiritual Formation, First Baptist Church of Morganton; The Rev. Cindy Wechter; The Rev. Laura C. Roach; The Rev. Paul McClure