Dear Mr. Speaker: An Open Letter to Brother Philip Gunn, Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives

Mississippi-state-flag-flying-in-front-of-capitol-building-in-Jackson-Shutterstock1-800x430

Dear Mr. Speaker,

I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. My name is CJ Rhodes and I am a resident of our Capital City. I also pastor Mt Helm Baptist Church, Jackson’s oldest historically black congregation, which is situated within Downtown’s Farish Street Historic District. We are in the shadow of the State Capitol and this year we’re celebrating 180 years of ministry. Our establishment dates back to 1835 when our enslaved ancestors worshiped under watchful eyes in the basement of First Baptist Church, Jackson. We remained a part of First Baptist’s congregation until 1865. At that time we were delivered from bondage by the Almighty’s outstretched arm. With the benevolence of Thomas and Mary Helm, members of Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church, Mt Helm (named in their honor) was founded as an autonomous Baptist congregation and has played a vital role in religion and racial uplift ever since.

Brother Gunn, it was with great joy that I read your Facebook status about how your Christian convictions caused you to reconsider the Confederate flag following the tragic massacre that occurred at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. I salute your courage and thank you for publicly sharing your change of heart. I know that you are a Southern Baptist elder and I assume that has something to do with your pastoral and political concerns for that flag’s offense to my people. I am blessed to see how the SBC is having a great awakening regarding race in the country. To God be the glory!

In recent days several members of your denomination have taken prophetic stands against the idolatry of white superiority and have called for the removal of the Confederate flag. Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where you serve as a Trustee), wrote, “Racial superiority is a sin as old as Genesis and as contemporary as the killings in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The ideology of racial superiority is not only sinful, it is deadly.”[1] Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd prophesied at the 2015 Convention that now is the time to lead racial justice and reconciliation, decrying all racism as sin.[2] Dr. Russell Moore, Mississippi Gulf Coast native and President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, powerfully avers:

White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our “heritage” at the expense of others. As those in Christ, this descendant of Confederate veterans has more in common with a Nigerian Christian than I do with a non-Christian white Mississippian who knows the right use of “y’all” and how to make sweet tea.[3]

Before these public proclamations another great Southern Baptist was led of the Holy Spirit to respond once again to racial reconciliation. Dan Jones, the former Chancellor of our alma mater, went to great lengths to make the University of Mississippi the flagship university of our State’s global future.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., another Baptist (though not Southern Baptist), said:

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.

Trusting God means doing the right thing.

I dare not claim to know all the reasons why some brothers and sisters cling to the Confederate flag the way we are to cling to the old rugged cross. I do not believe that every one of those Mississippians are prejudiced or white supremacists. But as a descendant of enslaved Africans and the grandson and son of Jim Crow generation black Mississippians, I know all too well what that flag has meant to my family and to so many others. To my knowledge, at no time since Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession have Confederates or their progeny forcefully repented of the pseudo-scientific and religious assumptions of black sub-humanity that underlined our State’s defense of slavery. During and after the Civil Rights revival, led in large measure by fellow Christ followers, that flag in the hands and hearts of segregationists was an emblem of black suffering and shame and was flown is opposition to the full equality of fellow Mississippians. From the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement and beyond, the Confederacy and its battle flag have meant horror, not heritage, to African Americans in Mississippi. That it remains a pronounced part of our State flag should grieve every saint of God.

I therefore commend you, a brother in Christ, for your conversion in this matter. Your stand for Christ and his Church is worthy of support and there are countless others standing with you. Brother Gunn, please know that I am personally praying for you, your wife Lisa, and your four children. I also pray that the Spirit of God convicts your colleagues in the House, Senate, and Governor’s mansion as well. This is a moment, the first of many, whereby the GOP can once again be the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. So in words that mirror former President Ronald Reagan, tear down this flag so that a more unifying symbol of Mississippi’s reconciled future might prevail.

May the blessings of the Lord overtake you, and may God shine His face on the Great State of Mississippi.

Still amazed by God’s grace,

CJ Rhodes

[1] Al Mohler, The Heresy of Racial Superiority—Confronting the Past, and Confronting the Truth. http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/06/23/the-heresy-of-racial-superiority-confronting-the-past-and-confronting-the-truth/

[2] Ronnie Floyd. “Now is the Time to Lead.” Southern Baptist Convention 2015 Presidential Address. http://player.piksel.com/player.php?video_uuid=h6shv45h&categoryId=73209

[3] Russell Moore. The Cross and the Confederate Flag. http://www.russellmoore.com/2015/06/19/the-cross-and-the-confederate-flag/

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17 thoughts on “Dear Mr. Speaker: An Open Letter to Brother Philip Gunn, Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives

  1. Jon David Cole says:

    Well said, CJ. As a white Christian, I have INFINITELY more in common with other Christians than anyone that happens to look like me. Jesus is so much more important to me.. and is my only hope! Grace and peace to you, brother. -Jon David Cole

  2. Michael says:

    I am surprised at how quickly municipalities, states, and businesses are responding!
    Amos 5:24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

  3. Thank you for this open letter to Philip Gunn. I read with great interest and support. Many blessings to you, Pastor. May God do a powerful work in our state, in our generation, toward true and lasting racial reconciliation.

    Dr. Micah Carter
    Pastor, First Baptist Church, Ripley, MS (177 years old! Est. 1838)

  4. David Sills says:

    Very well said, Brother. I know the brothers you mentioned in your article and you assessed them well; they are godly men with sincere hearts. You are clearly in their number and I hope to meet you someday so I can add you to the list of godly sincere men I have known. Thank you for your heart and ministry.

  5. Samuel Love, MD says:

    Thanks Rev. Rhodes. Profound, powerful, and graceful. As a man raised in First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, I was proud to see my church’s history intermingled with yours, sad that it has not persisted, but remain hopeful for the future. I was wondering if you saw the news from the Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly where Dr. Ligon Duncan (former senior minister of FPC Jackson and current Chancellor of RTS) issued a resolution for a public and open confession by the PCA for racial sins of its past. You can read more here (https://pastortimlecroy.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-protest-of-2015/). Perhaps a powerful start to something I have been hoping for awhile. Thanks for your words. Know that you have my support in this endeavor.

  6. Pingback: Confederate Flag Controversy: What’s Your Worldview and Identity? | Justice • Kindness • Humility

  7. Hilary Zimmerman says:

    So proud to be a Mussissippian! I love this state and it’s magnificent people. We are the light on the mountain. Let’s follow Phil Gunn’s lead: get rid of that divisive symbol.

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