History, Civil Rights, White Privilege

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, while I was pastoring in Clover, SC, there was a debate over whether or not the confederate flag should be removed from the dome of the South Carolina State House.  A colleague and friend of mine, the Rev. Charles White, who had also grown up in South Carolina, asked me and members of my congregation to join him and members of his congregation in a march led by Joe Riley, the mayor of Charleston to have the confederate flag removed. The Clover City Council went on record as favoring the removal of the flag.  While a number of us joined in the march, it would be more than another decade before the governor, Nikki Haley, ordered it removed permanently from the grounds of the State House.

As a result of our efforts, we drew the attention of the Ku Klux Klan and they applied for and were given a permit to march through the streets of Clover. Believing in the first amendment, the mayor of Clover, one of my members, said to deny them the right to march would be to deny free speech for all of us. So along with several other ministers, Charles and I met to discuss what an appropriate response would be to the impending march. Our conclusion was that our best response was to give no credibility to a group of people who neither understood history nor recognized the errors in their thinking about the history of the flag, civil rights, or white privilege.

On the afternoon of the march, the churches loaded their vans with young people and took them to the movies and we encouraged our church members to gather in small groups away from downtown and pray for healing in our community and our nation. I sat with a group of Methodists at the parsonage in which Charles lived and we waited and prayed until the march was over.

While I honor those who stand in opposition to racism, and I grieve those who want to cling to the past rather than work for the future, I also wonder what would happen if there was a hate parade and no one showed up. My prayer is that one day we will truly understand what it means to confess that all of us are created equal and that we are all precious in the sight of God and that God loves all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, and Christian and all others.

Bill Neely