One group of protesters was filled with anger and disgust as they shook their signs and yelled. They were sure of their cause and outraged that anyone could possibly disagree. The second group were just as passionate and just filled with righteous indignation. What sort of vile human being could disagree with what they know is so clear? They cursed each other, they hated each other and they even prayed destruction upon each other. Though some of the protesters were there in the name of a church or Christian organization there was certainly no love for their brother present. Both sides were restrained by police behind barriers as workers hoisted a 100-year-old Civil War monument from its base and hauled it away into obscurity. Neither of the groups of protesters seemed aware of the sadly ironic picture their protests presented. The same divisions that tore apart a country 150 years ago were on full display. The same spirit that led to the death of many Americans and including thousands of Christians was moving.
The man whose statue was being removed from the public square, Robert E. Lee was the leader of the army of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. He led the soldiers of the states that were attempting to break away from the Union and form a new nation. The primary reason for secession was the right to keep other humans as slaves.
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was one of his right-hand men. He earned his nickname from beating back the armies of Union in defense of the states rights to maintain “the peculiar institution” as they called it, slavery.
Do you know what both of these soldiers of the cause of slavery had in common, other than being generals and being from Virginia?
They were both reported to be devout Christians. Jackson was even a deacon, taught Bible studies and enjoyed teaching Sunday School to black children. It is strange when you think about it, isn’t it? The leading rebels fighting the abolition of slavery were Christians. In fact, most of the soldiers who made up the military of the Confederate States of America would have identified as Christians.
Like any “church” there were certainly a number of men who were culturally Christian or did not really understand Jesus in their ranks. But there were also certainly truly saved brothers in Christ in the Army that was fighting to protect slavery. Their letters home and diaries are filled with prayers and references to God’s protection and will in their lives.
There was even a revival that took place in 1863 while the war was raging. The Battle of Gettysburg took place that same year. It eventually led to 100,000 of the South’s soldiers professing a faith in Jesus. Tent meetings, Bible study, and baptisms sprung up wherever the soldiers camped.
In one particularly poignant baptismal ceremony, soldiers of the South were baptized the day after a large battle in a local creek at the site. The same water that was filled with dead from both armies was used to proclaim new life in Christ. Yikes!
It even gets stranger. The revival was not limited to the Confederates. The Union Army experienced 100,000-200,000 soldiers giving their lives to Christ around the same time. A general attached to the Army of the Potomac commented that he had never experienced such a mighty move of God in his lifetime. From the high ranking generals to the regular private soldiers, they experienced genuine conversions to a life in Christ.
These men from both sides appeared to have expressed a genuine faith in Jesus as their Savior. Jesus promised to give us as His followers peace and said that we would be known by our love for our brothers. These guys were saved amidst blood and carnage and then went out and killed their Christian brothers in the hundreds of thousands. 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War. Many of them were praying to God while killing or being killed by other men who were praying to the same God. These men had the same Bible as we do, said a lot of the same prayers that we do and even sang a lot of the same hymns.
This strange phenomenon was not limited to the men who fought the Civil War. Many of the men who took up arms in the armies of Nazi Germany or that battled each other in World War 1 proclaimed the name of Jesus.
How in the world does this happen? How do men who have been transformed into new creations in Christ turn around and rather than dying for their brothers, kill them? The answer is relatively simple. They loved the things of the world more than loved Jesus.
Misplacing our loyalty gets us in trouble as Christians. We are called to serve Jesus and have our lives dictated by God alone. That is simple to say but hard to do. Loving things in this world tends to distract us and lead us away from God’s clear directions.
The distractions are often not bad in themselves: family, country, money or lifestyle are good things. The problem comes when we follow these loves and are loyal to them rather than to Jesus. Our love of stuff, ideals, people, political parties and even our country can compel us to do things that Christ would never ever support, sometimes in tragic ways.
Consider Lee and his role as chief of the rebels. Lee spent most of his life prior to the Civil War as a soldier in the American Army. He was a loyal soldier for decades. He also was at least luke-warm to possibly outright opposed to slavery. His position motivated by his Christianity. However, Lee was also a member of the upper class of the State of Virginia and loved the state and his lifestyle there dearly.
When the war broke out he had a choice to make. It is the same choice that we make every day on a much smaller and less dramatic scale. Lee had a loyalty to Jesus as a Christian, a loyalty to the US as a citizen and soldier and to his state as a Virginian. Which of his allegiances would come first?
Given a choice to make between his loves: God, Country or State, he chose his home state of Virginia and made all of his decisions based upon that bond. Patriotism for Virginia was simply higher in his personal ranking than his love of country, God or loyalty to the Federal Government. He esteemed his home, family and his lifestyle more than anything else, even more than his love of God.
While Lee’s decision was an obviously dramatic and costly one, how often do we go through the same process in our lives in smaller ways? When we have God’s Word leading us and the spurring of the Holy Spirit on one side of the scale and place lifestyle, career, money, family, or any of the things that we love in this life on the other and weigh them out to decide what to do. We think, “Ok, I know the Bible says this, but I love my opinion so much more”.
What does this look like? We may be offered an opportunity to preach the Gospel to a hurting soul but know that hurting person can hurt our career if they are not receptive. We may feel strongly about a political candidate or a political position but a person who visits our church is wearing the shirt of our leader’s opponent. We may think that Robert E. Lee was a patriot while our brother in Christ is greatly offended by the mention of a soldier who attempted to keep his ancestors in chains. Each situation presents a choice for us whether we love our stuff more than we love what God calls to do.
It comes down to a simple question. What do we love more, Jesus or our careers, Jesus or Bernie Sanders, Jesus or the world? Again, simple in concept, right? But in execution, it tests us to the very core and people like Lee and Jackson have been swept away in their love of world as long as people have been on this earth. Will the love or hate of Donald Trump lead us into warfare with our Christian brothers like slavery did 150 years ago?
Most of those who fought for the South never owned a slave or benefitted from the enslavement of others. They simply choose their love of their state, their love of freedom as they defined it or the politics of the day to bind them to a cause that was abhorrent at its core. They chose what they loved over what Jesus loves.
A monumental tragedy took place because one by one people lost sight of who is most important, Jesus, and exchanged Him for ideals, politics and patriotism. Their choices and preferences should never have been esteemed higher than God. They paid a huge price for their mistake.
As the political and ideological climate across the globe today grows more heated every day we Christians need to heed the lesson of these tragic men of history. People may be taking sides everywhere but that is not for us. The church is one in Christ regardless of whether we agree on Confederate War Memorials or Health Care laws. The internet may be encouraging people to spew venom at one another at an unprecedented rate but Jesus said the world would know us by our love. Jesus told us to love our neighbor and made clear who that was with the Parable of the Good Samaritan: everyone.
So where does our loyalty lie today? Are we loving the Lord God with all our mind, heart and soul? Do we have anything that we love in this world more than Jesus? If so, lay it down today before a forgiving and loving God and love like Jesus loved. He loves people no matter their political persuasion. Leave it to the world fight its battles with itself.