My wife and I recently dropped in at a church that my grandfather served early in his career during the 1920s and 30s, one of three churches in his circuit. It is one of the oldest and most historic parishes in the Diocese of Virginia.
Our visit was mid-week during the holidays so no one was there to open the church. We walked around the outside and also gained a look at the colonial interior through the windows.
Coming right up to the rear of the church was a small cemetery. I noticed some of the graves were marked with red, white and blue flags, the kind of flag a child might wave at a veterans parade. Some of those red, white and blue flags were the American flag, but others were the Confederate battle flag.
When I saw the Confederate flag I experienced a pang of pain and a flood of questions. Why was the flag there? Who put it there? Had the church considered taking a stance on the display of the flag?
Plainly, the flag denoted the grave of a confederate veteran. My basic question was and is, why was it there given that we know the display of the flag is a cause for deep hurt among African-Americans?
Some will offer the explanation that the flag is displayed to honor an ancestor and not to cause hurt to African-Americans; that the display of the flag for reasons of heritage should not be equated with the flag's association with the KKK and other groups who actively promote their belief in white superiority. I am confident that many offer explanations of this kind with sincerity. But I do not share the point of view that their preference overrides the hurtful message the flag sends.
With an exception for gravestones and other memorials of the period, I believe we should adopt the stance that the Confederate flag has no place in an Episcopal cemetery. I call upon dioceses to adopt this stance, and for parishes and cemetery trustees to adopt it as policy.
Where do you stand? Do you dismiss my view that the Confederate flag has no place in an Episcopal cemetery? Do you agree with me, but believe a diocese should do more than encourage parishes to ban display of the flag?
John B. Chilton is a member of the Race Relations Committee for the Diocese of Virginia. A draft of the diocese's report on the diocese's role in slavery and its aftermath, being prepared in response to General Convention's A143-2009 is available here.