As the debate over the Confederate Battle Flag continues to occupy the interest of the media we are constantly reminded of precisely who is “right” and who is on the wrong side of history. Listening to the talking heads on cable news you’d be tempted to think that, much like climate change, the social science is settled. Everyone is onboard for tearing the hated flag down and if you don’t agree you are part of a tiny group of racist dead enders, clutching your guns and your bibles in some remote cave in the Ozarks. Presidential candidates and Republican Party leaders (who clearly watch too much TV) have been rushing to join the call for packing the flag off to a dark corner of a museum. Stores are yanking flag merchandise off the shelves and even Bubba Watson is painting over the symbol on the General Lee.
This has quickly become just one of those things that everybody knows. Of course, when you actually go and poll Americans on the subject, it turns out that “everybody” is a lot smaller number than you may have thought.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans said they see the flag as evoking Southern pride in the CNN/ORC poll released Thursday, compared to 33 percent who believe it is racist. Those numbers show little movement since a similar poll from 2000.
Black and white Americans have very different views on whether the flag is a symbol of pride or a symbol of hate. Two-thirds of whites believe the flag represents Southern pride, while only 28 percent believe it has any ties to racism.
That perspective is the opposite among blacks — 72 percent believe the flag is a symbol of racism.
The majority of Americans, both black and white, believe that the flag should be removed from all government property except for museums.
So thing are never quite as clear as you think, are they? And the meanings of various symbols are different, depending who you ask, and they can even change over time. The Confederate Flag is indeed a symbol of southern pride to many folks even though it’s been used for other purposes in the past. But there’s another symbol which is showing up on a regular basis these days too. It’s the rainbow flag and the general Rainbowifying of anything and everything since the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Twitter icons have been bathed in rainbows, rainbow flags are being raised across the land and even the White House went rainbow for one night.
I bring this up partly because the intersection between those wanting to tear down the Confederate Flag and those hoisting the rainbow banner is almost total. A venn diagram of the two groups would have very little uncovered surface area. And we all know what the rainbow stands for, right? Gay marriage, baby! Gay rights across the land! It’s a victory for the entire nation!
But much like the Confederate Flag, the rainbow didn’t always stand for The Gay. This may come as a shock to some of you, but for a very long time it had a rather distinctly different meaning.
And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. 17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.
My apologies if the source material for that quote is unfamiliar to some of you, but trust me… you can still find copies near where you live in essentially every town in America.
You may be sensing some of the irony in all of this shifting symbolism by this point. Those waving rainbow colors stand for gay marriage. Everybody knows it. And yet, for thousands of years, they represented the covenant between God and His creation, as well as a reminder of the rather stiff punishment He once handed down for not keeping His laws. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fly the rainbow flag if you wish. Help yourself. But it might also serve as a brief reminder that symbols can mean different things to different people and the meanings of some of those symbols can expand and evolve over time. And with that in mind, as you climb up flag poles and vandalize monuments, perhaps you could recall another quote from that obscure source material I cited above.
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Just some food for thought over the holiday weekend.