THE SENATE has done South Carolina proud. Not simply because it voted to remove the Confederate flag from our State House grounds — although essential, that was expected — but because of the way it did that.
Senators engaged in a respectful debate that focused on grace and peace, that demonstrated how black and white legislators had come to understand each other better, that should help anyone who cares to have help in that journey, and that could lay the groundwork for setting aside some of the bitterness that too often characterizes our politics. And after everyone had their say, they voted decisively, across partisan and racial lines, to retire the flag to a museum.
Watch the Senate debate here; it starts about a half hour into the first July 6 video, then continues into the second one.
Achieving a consensus decision that reached across both racial and political barriers to pull the people of South Carolina together always has been at least as important as removing the flag. The quality of the debate, the motivation for the action, always has been the metric by which any action would be judged. And the motivation in the Senate could not have been better: to love our enemies as we love ourselves; to recognize the pain the flag causes so many of our fellow citizens and to agree, out of love, to stop causing pain to our brothers and sisters.
Sen. Lee Bright railed about “a Stalinistic purge of our cultural identity,” giving as an example efforts in one state to stop honoring the founder of the KKK, and meandered from suggesting that black people shared blame for slavery to trying just a little too hard to demonstrate that he respects some black people. But he was the only one flirting with racist talking points. The other two senators who voted against removing the flag — Danny Verdin and Harvey Peeler — simply explained why they respect the flag.
Everyone else reflected on the amazing grace displayed by the families of the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney and the other eight Christians massacred by a white supremacist while they studied the Bible at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. To the nonsensical claim by Mr. Bright that the Confederate flag shouldn’t be moved because it didn’t kill those people, Sen. Gerald Malloy referred to those families and answered simply: “It was not his sin, but their grace that brought us here.”
What we need now is for House members to work together to achieve the same bipartisan, biracial consensus as the Senate did.
What we need is for House members to remember the motivation for South Carolina’s change of heart. Not spitting in the graves of Confederate dead. Not even taking a position on what motivated Confederate soldiers. Simply reaching out in kindness and love to our fellow citizens. Simply agreeing that we don’t want to do things as a state that make them feel like they are less than welcome at the place where our laws are made, that make them feel like we’re spitting in their faces.