Historical Context impossible to maintain
June 26, 2015
(Additional Op Ed column by the seminary president)
Until recently, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg has permitted the display of confederate flags in historical context, even the more controversial versions of the flag when used in historic and educational contexts. But Seminary officials have agreed that given the brutal murders of nine people in a Charleston, SC church and the identification of certain flags with supremacist movements in America make it impossible to maintain the historic context for the display of symbolism associated with those movements.
The policy affirms the exhibit of the Seminary Ridge Museum and notes that the exhibit is the one space where the historical context is clear and appropriately used.
Seminary officials continue to appreciate the educational value of living history groups on campus after opening its campus for the first time to the activity in 2011. “It is good for the visitors and students of history” to open the campus for these purposes free and open to the public. But repeated events held in or near Gettysburg by groups sponsoring or threatening to use hate speech have utilized some of the symbols of the Confederate States to communicate racism and employ hate speech. More recently the brutal murders in Charleston, SC, at Emanuel AME Church, “make it impossible to maintain the necessary clear and unambiguous educational context on Seminary Ridge” said John Spangler, speaking for the Seminary. “We are forced by more recent history and current events to declare a total ban on display of confederate symbols and flags used by supremacist organizations, and that unfortunately includes the Confederate Navy Jack and the St. Andrew cross in two of the official flags of the Confederacy.” Seminary officials also note that there are numerous flags used by reenactors of the Confederate States of America which do not employ the graphic symbols in question.
The policy change is as follows: As of June 18, 2015, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg prohibits the display (all or in part) of the flag or flags associated with the Confederate States of America containing graphic symbols utilized after the Civil War to communicate hatred and racism and resistance to civil rights legislation, including what is known as the “Confederate Battle flag, the Confederate Navy Jack, and officially designated flags of the Confederate States of America utilizing the St. Andrew cross. The only exception to this is the historical display included in exhibits of the Seminary Ridge Museum, where it is clearly interpreted in historical context.
Recent events have brought to the fore extra sensitivity and sorrow on the Gettysburg campus. Two of the victims killed in Emanuel AME Church, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney were graduates of Gettysburg Seminary’s sister school in Columbia, SC, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. And the alleged shooter, Daryl Roof, is also a member of a South Carolina Lutheran congregation. The Seminary remains the frequently used place for counter rallies to supremacist meetings in the area, and is committed to honoring the legacy of its most famous graduate, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Alexander Payne, a 19th Century leader in the AME tradition, forced as a young man from Charleston, SC to study theology at Gettysburg.
“The problem with the symbolism in question is not about its historical used in the context of interpreting the Civil War, Spangler continued, “it is rather the subsequent used in resisting civil rights and overt and violent racism by individuals and groups that continue to this day. We simply can’t ignore this deeply disturbing and historical usage.”
The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the oldest of the eight seminaries of the 4 million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, prepares women and men to be outreach oriented public theologians and mission leaders. It provides programs in continuing studies, advanced theological education, and specialized educational programs for informed lay persons, ordained and other rostered leaders, and high school youth. More information is available at the Seminary’s web site: www.ltsg.edu/ , by email at email@example.com, or by calling (717) 334-6286.