By Bob Allen
A guest column in a Baptist state newspaper takes exception to Southern Baptist leaders reacting to the recent church shooting in Charleston, S.C., with calls to take down the Confederate flag.
Edward DeVries, pastor of Village of Grace Baptist Church in The Villages, Fla., said in a July 17 commentary in the North Carolina Baptist newspaper the Biblical Recorder that criticism of the Confederate flag by SBC leaders including seminary president Albert Mohler and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore dishonors godly Southern Baptist men who served honorably in the army of the Confederate States of America.
“While I think the actions committed by a domestic terrorist against our brethren at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were deplorable and unconscionable, I do not believe that the proper response to them, by Southern Baptists or by anyone else, is to vilify the good name of our ancestors,” DeVries commented. “Nor should we propagate lies about the banner under which many of them so bravely fought.”
DeVries, the author of numerous books including A Symbol of Hate? or an Ensign of the Christian Faith?, said during the war his great grandfather served as the color sergeant in the 19th Texas Infantry.
“His job was to march at the front of the column, carrying the flag that Russell Moore, Al Mohler and others now vilify,” DeVries said. “It also meant that he was the primary target for enemy fire in battle. The fact that he survived the war is a miracle.”
DeVries, who started the small Southern Baptist-affiliated church in 2011 in The Villages, a census-designated place in Sumter County near Leesburg in Central Florida, said he shares that ancestry with his maternal grandfather, a Southern Baptist pastor for 53 years. Hundreds of thousands of Southern Baptists share similar ancestry, he said.
DeVries said perhaps Moore, Mohler and other Confederate flag critics “do not share the ancestry common to the majority of Southern Baptists.” Or maybe they do, he continued, but are “simply choosing political correctness over the Fifth Commandment.” DeVries said Exodus 20:12 — “Honor thy father and thy mother” — also applies to grandfathers and great grandfathers. That’s why the Bible refers to Jesus as the “Son of David.”
Days after 21-year-old Dylann Roof allegedly murdered nine worshippers at the historically black Emanuel AME Church, Moore, Southern Baptists’ top spokesman for moral concerns, penned a blog picked up by the Washington Post claiming that symbolism associated with the Confederate “flag is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he was deeply conflicted about the seminary’s founders’ support for the Confederacy and slavery, concluding that they were “heretics” in their teaching about racial superiority.
DeVries said most of the men who founded the Southern Baptist Convention were Confederate veterans, and those too old to serve were documented supporters of the Confederate government.
“So the attack by our denominational leadership is not only an attack against my ancestors, it is also an attack against the men and women who birthed our denomination and established many of its critical institutions,” he said. “It is a direct attack against the character and the godliness of our fathers and heroes in the faith.”
In his 10-chapter book subtitled The Truth About the Confederate Battle Flag, DeVries set out to correct what he says are misconceptions about the Confederate flag. In his op-ed DeVries said the flag his ancestors followed into battle was “not a symbol of slavery or hate” but rather “a symbol they selected from antiquity as a testimony of their Christian faith.”
DeVries said he cannot imagine why SBC leaders “would be attacking the very foundation of our denomination by impugning the character, morality and patriotism of our denominational founders.”
In the few hours between an announcement that Amazon.com would no longer sell Confederate merchandise and the listing for his book was removed, DeVries said he sold 1,215 copies. He responded with a website offering to give it away in PDF form to anyone who asks for free.
“The reason I am giving it away is because our history and heritage are under attack like never before,” he said. “And sadly, the attack against our Southern Baptist ancestors is now coming from high-ranking Southern Baptists.”
“How sad it is that I must work so hard to enable the rank and file of our Baptist churches to defend the heritage and the good name of our noble ancestors against the slander of our own denominational leadership,” DeVries said. “The very least I can do is give anyone who requests it a copy of the book in the name of those who so bravely fought for their nation as they passed down to their children, and to us, the ‘faith once delivered unto the saints.’”
In 1997 Don Hinkle, editor of The Pathway, state newspaper of the Missouri Baptist Convention, wrote a 200-page book titled Embattled Banner: A Reasonable Defense of the Confederate Battle Flag.
After the Charleston shooting Hinkle posted on Facebook that he thinks a lot of Americans felt 20 years ago that “mischaracterizations” about the Confederate flag could be overcome, but at least two generations now “have come to believe it is a symbol of racism.”
“For this reason it should be displayed in historical contexts only,” Hinkle said.