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Bearing False Witness Against Confederate Dead

Confederate Monuments

Since the protests to keep Confederate monuments in Charlottesville Virginia, it’s been kosher for some Christians to jump on the bandwagon to remove Confederate monuments. Now they’re holding their noses at the strange bed-fellows that they’ve made with groups like Antifa. Several well-meaning believers have piled onto the scrum and have become amateur historians and apologists. They have engaged in  arguments to support their new cause. I’m going to guess that many of them haven’t considered Exodus 20:16 and how careful they ought to be when accusing people of heinous moral crimes. That passage ought to make them ask themselves, are they bearing false witness against Confederate dead?

Serious sin

Bearing false witness is serious. Prohibitions regarding bearing false witness permeate Scripture. But, at the heart of this biblical law is the idea the we are not to falsely judge people. Why? Because, bearing false witness is a manifestation of not loving our neighbor. If we falsely accuse a person we have treated them unjustly. We have ignored their God-given rights to just treatment through witnesses, evidence, and facing one’s accusers. These are benefits of being God reflectors or imago Dei.

Calvin said that an integral part of true religion includes an interest in righteous treatment of other people.

“As religion towards God is an essential branch of universal righteousness, so righteousness towards men is an essential branch of true religion. Godliness and honesty must go together.”

 If  you engage in accusations of those Confederates without doing the work of ensuring their righteous treatment, you aren’t simply doing injustice toward them. You are not practicing true religion. People deserve fair treatment because they are God’s created reflection of himself.

Pursue justice

Shouldn’t this principle be applied to our attitudes at work and at home? Christians ought to pursue procedures that protect people against false witness and/or prosecution.

Union contracts are much the same. We ought not be of the opinion that their purpose is to protect the guilty. Although that is an unintentional effect sometimes. The contract, a compact between the employer and the employee, protects the innocent from false prosecution.

The same is true for our justice system. Our system’s primary purpose is to protect the innocent. Even though there are times that the guilty slip through the cracks, the innocent have an umbrella of protection from false accusers and prosecutors. This ought to be our primary concern, even when it seems that justice has failed to punish wrong doers. When the innocent have been spared we ought to rejoice.

Culture of judges

That’s not a popular concept today. Our “now” culture wants immediate satisfaction when injustice occurs. Time is the friend of the innocent but not something most people want to sacrifice. I ruminate that the interest many people have in justice is only an effort at convenience and self-satisfaction. I am certain that those attitudes exist when it comes to complicated historical examples of injustice. Most people are too busy to consider the complexity of historical events like the War Between the States deeply enough to avoid an attitude of bearing false witness against the dead of 150 years ago.

Memphis pastors sign petition to remove Confederate Monuments

How do we bear false witness? (to)

First, we ought not bear false witness to our neighbor. Telling the truth ought to govern our speech always. But, specifically, our neighbors ought to benefit from our reliability as truth tellers. Misleading them with falsehoods is an act of injustice levied against them as God’s image bearers. As Calvin said, it is an act against true religion.


Secondly, we ought not bear false witness against our neighbor. It’s easy to get caught in a conversation that seems to require us to make a quick judgment about a person without just cause. Often, our own reputation as judge precedes our interest in fairness to the accused. That ought not be so, even in implication. Our neighbors ought to benefit from our honest treatment to their reputation before our own. When we are faced with making a quick judgment without proper evidence, witnesses, or facing the accused, we should default to either keeping quiet or defending the process. God’s process of protecting the innocent is perfect. We are not. But, as God’s ambassadors we ought to defend real justice before our interest turns to applying punitive judgements.

Piling on

Finally, piling on or adding to the guilt of a person is another form of bearing false witness. We ought not join in a defamation of character. We ought to avoid conversations that engage in talking about someone behind their backs or without their knowledge of being accused. This is important to God because his image bearers’ reputations are important. They reflect him in various facets. When we engage in damaging them unjustly and without their proper defense we damage God’s reputation. A person has the right to face his accuser(s) and to a proper defense. This is biblical and inalienable to people as God’s image bearers, even if they were Confederate. God gives his image bearers those rights. The reputation of people ought to benefit from our discipline to not bear false witness, piling on, adding to, or telling tales especially when they aren’t present to defend themselves.

Calvin said

This forbids, 1. Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbor. 2. Speaking unjustly against our neighbor, to the prejudice of his reputation; and (which involves the guilty of both), 3. Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either judicially, upon oath (by which the third commandment, and the sixth of eighth, as well as this, are broken), or extra-judicially, in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale-bearing, aggravating what is done amiss and making it worse than it is, and any way endeavouring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbor’s.

Notice. Calvin included a prohibition to virtue signaling.

Are dead people people?

Lastly, can we bear false witness against dead people? Is that even possible? Do they share the same right to justice as people who live on physically? Is there a meaningful distinction that can be made between a person who is deceased and a person who continues to live as a physical being? Are physical beings the only persons that can be afforded just treatment? Do dead people remain as God’s image bearers even if they only remain as spiritual beings or souls? Is God’s reflection merely physical? Is God a person worthy of justice? Will God judge dead, non-physical people rightly?

If you’re a Christian, your worldview dictates the answers to each of these questions. If dead people remain imago Dei and are worthy of just treatment, then we ought not bear false witness against dead people. Confederate dead, or any other people, deserve just treatment. Be careful how you judge them.

I was born in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, born again at a very young age, married a beautiful and likeminded woman, moved to Tennessee, and raised two children in the Southern traditions of loving God and neighbor, exercising manners, and being stewards of the land and its bounty. After becoming involved in youth ministry in our local church, the need of teaching people "what they believe and why they believe it" became painfully apparent, especially in my immediate context (rural Southern churches). We began an apologetics/theology ministry there but have since moved on. After serving in church leadership and being called to faithfulness and duty to protect our congregation from a rogue pastor under church discipline of his previous church, my experiences in this biblical process shape much of what I believe about how churches in the South have become weak and why nominal Christianity is prevalent. I love the Church and Southern culture so you can expect to read about apologetics and theology as well as church and culture here, written southern style, by the grace of God. Deo Vindice

4 thoughts on “Bearing False Witness Against Confederate Dead

  1. Good post … until you started appealing to Calvin

    Don’t you think the northern Abolitionists deserve to get the ‘Best Calvinists’ award?
    John Brown, after all, was an admirer of Oliver Cromwell and Im pretty sure held tightly to to the five points.

    New England, home of the gaggle of Abolitionists who funded Brown, was the only American region that made holy war on Calvin’s bugaboos, Christmas and Easter. Oh yeah! I forgot Cromwell banned them too. ( the South NEVER banned Christmas ANYWHERE. And probably would have tarred and feathered any preacher who ignored Easter.) Certainly if southern Protestants had taken Calvin seriously, they would have mirrored the puritans iconoclasm.

    See where I’m going here?….America has suffered greatly from the pilgrims’ ‘(and Calvin’s) virtues being turned loose on the rest of us.

    1. Thank you KC. I’m glad you liked the premise.
      I’ll have to disagree with your criticism about Calvin and Puritanism though. It’s a bit more complicated than Puritanism=Calvinism.
      Most Southerners were Calvinists but of the orthodox kind, while New England Puritanism made Calvinism into an abstract ideology based upon a flawed eschatology. The New England Puritan “city on a hill” mantra dominated their soteriology, ecclesiology, and ultimately their entire theological system and therefore New England yankee culture. This abstraction dominates Evangelicalism today and may be the greatest danger to the Protestant Church and the cultures shaped by it.

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