Monuments of Shame

During my college years, I was quite enamored with beer.  I’m not proud of that.  But, it’s the truth.  My love affair with beer became a destructive habit that damaged relationships, hindered my maturation and education, and cast a permanent dark cloud over that chapter of my life.

I not only drank beer.   I covered the walls of my bedroom with beer-related posters and neon beer signs.  I built a visible, tangible monument to my destructive, addictive idolatry.

27 years ago, with God’s help, I stopped drinking.  Thank God.  About that time, I also tore down the beer-related decor.  Needless to say, there’s no beer-related paraphernalia in house anymore.

Given my history with beer, and the pain and destruction it caused, imagine if I still had that stuff hanging around.  What would that communicate to my mom, to my wife and children? What would that communicate to guests in my home?  What would that communicate to those who call me “pastor?”  What would that say about me, and my inability to move on?

Perhaps this is an overly-trite example, by comparison.  I hear a lot of talk these days about Civil War-related monuments.  I hear well-intentioned people say, “It’s our history,” as a justification for why the monuments should remain.  But, as I understand it, the purpose of monuments is to honor.  Is it appropriate for monuments to remain, in public, tax-payer supported places of honor, that represent such a dark blot on our history?  Is it appropriate for monuments to remain that symbolize the source of pain and strife for so many of our fellow-Americans?  It appropriate to maintain public monuments that white supremacists continue to use as symbols for their hate-filled cause?

I have vivid memories of the Berlin Wall coming down  and the massive statue of Saddam Hussein toppled in Iraq.  Numerous statues of Stalin and Lenin were torn down, removed, or relocated to history museums.  To the best of my knowledge, the destruction of such monuments was celebrated by most Americans.

In contrast, one can still visit many of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany – not as monuments, but reminders.

I will confess, as a 50-year-old white man, born and raised in the South, it only recently occurred to me that Confederate monuments were an issue of concern.  They’ve been an “accepted” part of Southern culture, since before I was born.  They’ve just been part of the Southern landscape.

But, my eyes have been opened.  While they’ve not offended me in the past, I now view them from a different perspective.  I have a growing understanding of what they represent to my African American brothers and sisters.  I have a growing understanding of the shameful horrors they represent. If they cause pain, and continue to communicate a message of racial difference and separation, then they need to come down.

They MUST come down!

Yes, the Civil War is part of our history – as are the Trail of Tears, the Japanese internment camps, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the southern Jim Crow laws, etc., etc.  We have history books, documentaries, and museums to keep those stories alive.  Remembering our history is important, so that we learn, grow, and strive not to repeat it.

Perhaps we do need monuments – monuments on behalf of the victims – as reminders of our sins.  But, why would we maintain monuments to honor the perpetrators of our darkest moments?

Though trivial by comparison, my college drinking is a dark chapter of my life.  I’ve worked hard to overcome that part of my history.  I can’t change it.  And, I won’t hide it.  But, I certainly won’t memorialize it.  The neon beer signs had to come down.

They had to come down.



11 thoughts on “Monuments of Shame

  1. Thank you Vance. It is important for us to value each other over and above our “heritage,” or “history,” because we are creating history right now.


  2. To me, leaving the statues – or the beer signs – up seems to say, “Don’t get too comfortable. This may only be a phase. Life can always go back to how it was.” How can we treat others with such total disrespect? We need to show a real commitment to change. That requires removal…of signs & statues!


  3. With all due respect, where does it stop? People need to learn the definitions of being offended and being tolerant. In 1968, I graduated from Robert E. Lee High School. It was the second public school to be built in Duval County. If they change that name, they need to change the city name of Jacksonville. On the offended side Robert E Lee was a saint compared to Andrew Jackson! The idea of being offended is amplified by groups with there own agenda. Being tolerant (as in love one another) is taught (not always practiced) by every Christian religion I know of. Are they going to come to me one day and say I love you but I’m changing the name of your high school? What if I said I’m offended by all motorcyle riders who don’t where a full faced helmet. Would Harley riders be offended or tolerant? Again, where does it stop?


    1. Dave, there’s a difference between offense and victimization. You and I might offend each other (I hope not), but neither has victimized the other (to the best of my knowledge). The symbols I am referring to are directly related to slavery, a war to protect the institution of slavery, and the oppressive legal systems that followed that continued to victimize the descendants of slaves. The symbols I am referring to are being used by white supremacists.

      My position is not based on responding to anything and everything that offends someone. My position is based in sensitivity for the victim. My reading of Scripture is that I am called to side with the oppressed, and to be a voice for the voiceless.


  4. Vance, I would like your opinion here….. This is a horrific. It is a collection of wedding rings taken from the Jews who were being prepared for the Nazzi’s gas chamber. The Nazzi’s collected these Should they be melted down and used for currency? Destroyed, so that it won’t offend anyone to be reminded of the pain and hostility inflicted on those who suffered (and lived through it)? or should they be placed in a holocaust museum to show the reality of those times of war? Will keeping these “symbols” around be history which we teach and learn from, or symbols which hurt future generations? Is it disrespectful to vandalize or remove statues that are symbols of the war which the buried people fought? In this case, I believe it is the Jews (the oppressed) who want these rings placed in public for all to see.


  5. Some would say this is a “trophy symbol” that Hitler collected, and represents his hatred. Therefore, it should not be memorialized. Others would never want this stuff covered up. Should it go to a museum? Should the statues go to a museum or be destroyed/vandalized?


  6. As someone that shared a lot of that beer with you, it is a pleasure to hear you speak from the heart. I agree with your view on this. Keep up the good work. Go Delt!

    Liked by 1 person

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