By Andrew Corley
Laurens, South Carolina has been featured in Trivial Pursuit. Some of you might not be impressed, but the town just got a Chick-fil-A a few months ago so let us take our victories where we can get them.
The trivial fact that gave my hometown a claim to fame is the presence of the “World Famous” Redneck Shop. Located in what had been the black movie theater on the square, the shop provided access to all sorts of “southern heritage” merchandise and also housed a KKK museum. The shop occasionally caused some controversy but for the most part was just accepted as part of life in this small South Carolina town. There was nothing shocking to me about the Confederate Flag, people wore it on shirts and hats, flew it in their yards and it was even flying at our state capitol. That particular flag occasionally caused some controversy, but for the most part was just accepted as part of life in this small southern state.
Like the Redneck shop at home it was simply part of the reality, and whether one was in favor of it or not it was something that had to be either embraced or ignored because it was part of “the way things were.”
And so I watched, with quite a bit of amazement, as the events of this past summer unfolded. As shocking as the horrific event at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston was, it was the reaction of my home state that shocked me more. The swiftness of the response, and the directness of the decision to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds, after its presence had already withstood so much, came as a huge surprise to me. To me it was an obvious step, a small move to make right something that was obviously wrong—a symbolic step in moving on from a past that most of us would like to forget.
I learned in the weeks after the decision and removal of the flag that the past has a way of refusing to go away. When I moved to North Carolina for Divinity School I was surprised by how few Confederate flags I saw. Shelby is not too dissimilar from Laurens, and yet this thing that had been such a natural sight growing up was nowhere to be seen. Then South Carolina’s flag came down.
Suddenly it became hard to drive through town without seeing at least one. On a mission trip to Cleveland, Ohio I eavesdropped on a group of people who had never left “Big 10 country” arguing about flying the flag. I recently heard results of a poll that said Americans across all races believe that race relations in America are getting worse with each passing year. What I once saw as a huge step forward seems instead to be the beginning of multiple steps back.
The story of Esther speaks to a time of a racial tension. As their people sit on the brink of extinction, Mordecai looks to his younger cousin and reminds her that God is at work in the world even when that work is not obvious and that she may have become queen “for such a time as this.”
In this time, we as Cooperative Baptists find ourselves with a unique opportunity to show that what binds us together is stronger than what separates us, and the God who unites us in love and fellowship is still at the work of reconciling a fallen world. My prayer is that we find the courage to answer God’s call in such a time as this, and to be a voice for that reconciliation that can only be found through Christ.
Andrew is a fourth year student at the Gardner-Webb School of Divinity. A native of Laurens, S.C., Andrew currently resides in Shelby, N.C., where he serves as Youth Minister at Zion Baptist Church. Andrew and his wife Meghan, a preschool teacher, have been married since 2013 and have one dog, Bear.