By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
July 22, 2020
Last month, Ryan Andrew Newson, a professor of Theology and Ethics at Campbell University, wrote a disturbing article for Religion Dispatches, which said defacing confederate monuments is morally justified.
Newson rejects arguments that hold to showing civility, moderation, and the need to protest the proper way. He says such arguments are “wrong” and fail to “recognize the important and legitimate place defacing monuments can have in working for justice.”
“As such, when I see people defacing a Confederate monument in the present context – or burning a building that hosted slave auctions, as happened in Fayetteville, NC – I see a justified expression of anger at a system that’s sometimes hard to get one’s hands-on, and continues to be indifferent (at best) to the ongoing legacies of white supremacy…Because white supremacy is a form of piety that so deeply takes hold of the imagination, defacing or destroying these images is a justified, even necessary, action,” wrote Newson.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said that he respectfully disagrees with the professor and believes his argument is a dangerous one. Creech said:
“Some years ago, the State Baptist Convention of North Carolina, separated itself from Campbell University. Many conservatives at that time felt that the school had become too liberal and were pleased to see the University go its own way,” said Creech. “But I wonder how the professor would feel if conservatives made the argument that the liberalism of Campbell has been a blight on the church, and degenerative of general morals in our state and nation? Therefore, it is ethically justified to deface its buildings with graffiti that reads, ‘Heretics, Perverters of Sound Christian Doctrine, Enemies of the Church and Society.’ The University should be burned to the ground. What a short-sighted, ridiculously, and irredeemable argument. Such professors seemingly never consider the ramifications of such a weak case – the way the same principle they tout might be applied to them.
“The professor’s contention fails to recognize the nuances of the subject matter and addresses it with broad sweeping accusations spoken in misguided generalities. Moreover, erroneous claims of this kind are also being used to wrongly deface and pull down memorials of our nation’s founders. I am no supporter of the ugly and abominable doctrine of white supremacy, and neither am I complicit with it. But the professor’s position is not only complicit with, but also endorses lawlessness, rebellion, and revolution.
“If these monuments should be removed, it should be done via the democratic process. I suggest to undermine the democratic process presents the opportunity for greater evils to excel than any alleged symbolic expressions of racism.”
In an article that asks, “What Does the Bible Say about Removing Statues?” Dr. Jim Dennison draws attention to the fact that numerous characters in the Bible had severe character flaws and committed egregious sins. “Should pictures and artworks depicting them be removed?” asks Dennison. He adds:
“Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich writes: ‘President Franklin Delano Roosevelt worked with segregationists, refused to rescue Jews seeking to flee Germany, and locked up Japanese Americans in camps which later led to the United States paying compensation for such a clear injustice. Should we remove the FDR Memorial on the Mall?”
“Historian David Greenberg responded last year to newly revealed FBI records about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that make very unfavorable allegations. Greenberg notes: ‘Even if the ugliest charges against King are bolstered by additional evidence, that doesn’t mean we should talk about renaming Martin Luther King Day, tearing down statues of him, or stripping him of his Nobel Prize. In recent years, we’ve had altogether too much wrecking-ball history—history that takes public or private flaws or failings as reason to cast extraordinary men and women out of our political or artistic pantheons. Historians know that even the most admirable figures from our past were flawed, mortal beings—bad parents or bad spouses, capable of violence or cruelty, beholden to sexist or racist ideas, venal or megalomaniac, dishonest or predatory. Awareness of these qualities doesn’t mean despising figures once held up as heroes. Rather, it gives us a more complete and nuanced picture of the people who shaped our world.’”
Denison concludes, “[D]ecisions regarding public art should be made by the public. Scripture teaches, ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God’ (Romans 13:1). In our context, this principle endorses the rule of law in its local and national expressions.”
“We can have our respective views on the meaning of Confederate monuments and what should be done with them. We should express those views with civility and kindness,” said Creech. “But where there shouldn’t be disagreement is in what manner those views get expressed. It’s both alarming and disappointing when a professor of theology and ethics at a Christian University validates anarchy.”