The Heartbeat
"Wretched man that I am…" Romans 7:24a

In last Sunday's sermon, I mentioned, in passing, my surprise at the toppling of a statue of Francis Scott Key, the composer of our National Anthem. I had learned, somewhere along the line, that Key was an outspoken Christian and the author of a number of Christian hymns. Having witnessed the Battle of Baltimore in September, 1814 and seeing the U.S. flag still flying "by the dawn's early light," he composed The Star Spangled Banner. The motto "In God we Trust" (found on all U.S. coins/money) is attributed to Key and that song.

So I questioned why anyone would want to tear down a statue of Francis Scott Key. I understand the taking down of those monuments meant to honor those who were part of the Confederacy, but why Key?

Sunday afternoon I received a kindly worded email from a woman challenging me to do some research on Key. I told her I would and here is what I learned: Francis Scott Key, though a devout Episcopalian (and Christian), owned 6 slaves. As a U.S. Attorney working in the District of Columbia he took a number of cases in which he defended slave owners. And while he also was somewhat influenced by the abolitionists of his day, all in all his legal and personal record is one of being an anti-abolitionist. And thus the toppling of his statue.

This past week I read that the University of Wisconsin may remove a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, Lincoln, the "Great Emancipator." But as the article mentioned, Lincoln supported the Homestead Act that allowed people to settle on land (40 acres) and claim that land as their own. It was noted that this was and is an affront to the Native Americans whose lands were being claimed.

History is a difficult subject to discuss for we are all prone to view the ancients – sometimes our own ancestors – through the lens of our modern world. We forget how "times change." My grandparents bought their first house for $2,000. They paid for it with cash. Find a young couple in 2020 who can purchase their first home for cash and you have likely stumbled upon either a couple who inherited a lot of money, won the lottery, or deal in drugs. For rare indeed is the young couple that can do what my ancestors did. Times have changed.

So back to Key…and Lincoln…and any of those who have been posthumously honored by these statues in their name…

  • They say that 12 U.S. presidents owned slaves. So are we to tear down their statues, remove their images from our currency, rename the states, towns, rivers and streets named after them?
  • Any move to see the U.S. expand its borders would, by definition, have be an affront to the Native Americans who lived here before us. I don't know how many presidents were involved in this, but quite a few.
  • Everyone knows Woodrow Wilson was a racist (or so they say).
  • Truman ordered the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan
  • John F. Kennedy was a philanderer and got us into Vietnam
  • Johnson…well, even he knew he dare not run for a second term
  • Nixon…we know about him
  • Ford pardoned Nixon
  • Carter said he lusted after women
  • Reagan invaded Grenada
  • Bush invaded Iraq
  • Clinton betrayed his wife (and the country)
  • Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Obama and Trump…the stories are still unfolding about them

On and on, it goes. The point being that all of the "movers and shakers" in history were men and women of flawed character (though I gave Eisenhower a pass). They were humans…sinners! The statues that honor them honor them for the particularly great acts they did…the bold actions they took when such actions were needed, and not for every detail of their lives. The statues are not meant to suggest that these men and women were of impeccable character. I'm sure if we looked long enough and hard enough we would learn of flaws in the likes of Pope John Paul II or Billy Graham. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great civil rights leader and a brilliant speaker (His "I Have a Dream" is reckoned to be one of the greatest speeches ever given by anyone in the history of the English language). But King was also reported to be quite the philanderer. Like all before and after him, he too was a "wretched man."

So Francis Scott Key owned slaves and was an anti-abolitionist. For the life of me I don't understand how any Christian could have in any way been supportive of "owning" slaves or defending the idea of owning slaves. But then I am a 21st century man and a lot has changed over the centuries.

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