By: Jonathan Harris
I am a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. For the most part, I am very grateful that the Lord has given me the opportunity to study under some very godly and wise men who have pointed me toward Christ. I have not had Dr. Brent Aucoin for a class since he teaches undergraduates and I’m in the seminary, but it deeply disturbs me that my tuition money is also going to pay for the salaries of people like him who promote political correctness. Knowing the same leftist slant that exists in secular universities is present here used to surprise me, but now it doesn’t. Its effects are evident in the student body. In a recent article in the The State, Dr. Aucoin was featured under the heading, “Confederate monuments should go to the scrap heap, Baptist seminary professor says.”
Aucoin says, “I just find it strange to venerate someone who waged war against our country.” Well, I find it strange that he, as a history professor with a Ph.D. in American History, finds this strange? Obviously, before the War Between the States especially, state allegiance trumped allegiance to one’s national government. It would take hardly any work to demonstrate that this was the attitude of the vast majority of the Founding Father’s themselves. Those who died defending their state were in essence defending their country. I’m sure Dr. Aucoin is familiar with Lee’s dilemma and decision to stand with his homeland of Virginia. There is nothing strange about this. He also assumes the national government is “our country.” This would not have been the assumption of North Carolina where Aucoin teaches. In fact, just the opposite. Defending North Carolina from an invasion of a foreign government WAS fighting for one’s country. A second problem with this statement is that he says the Confederates, “waged war.” If self-defense against an invasion is “waging war,” I need to go back and correct most of my history books. Poland did not “wage war” on Germany. They defended themselves, unsuccessfully. The same can be said for the South. Dr. Aucoin’s statement is absurd from a historical point of view. Only someone effected by revisionism would make such a claim.
Dr. Aucoin again plays fast and loose with the facts as he tries to pin the South with the moral stain of fighting for the expansion of slavery. He cites “documents published at the time by delegates from the states that seceded from the Union, starting with South Carolina. Its secession delegates defined states as ‘slaveholding’ and ‘non-slaveholding,’ and said that slaveholding states had broken the contract of the union of the United States by refusing to capture and return runaway slaves.”
Two things should be noted from the outset. 1) The vast majority of monuments are not to the governmental policy of the Southern states or their politicians, they are to soldiers who fought to protect their homes. 2) Even if Southern states seceded in order to perpetuate slavery, this still does not mean the soldiers were fighting for it. In fact, there are extremely good reasons to believe the perpetuation of slavery had nothing to do with the war itself. When someone confuses the causes for secession with the causes for the war (and the monuments dedicated to the soldiers of that war) you know they are deceiving you. With those two observations out of the way, let us examine the statement more closely.
Aucoin cites original “documents” as proof for the South’s nefarious reason for secession. There are two things however he does not do. 1) He does not cite the secession documents of the upper South. South Carolina, along with other lower southern states DO cite the institution of slavery as being related to their motivation to secede, but about half the states DO NOT. For instance, Virginia does not mention slavery except to refer to “slave states” as a matter of distinction between regions. The mobilization of Federal troops for the purpose of invasion had more to do with the upper South’s reason for secession. 2) He does not put the question of slavery in historical context. Slavery was not a moral question, but an economic and a political question. Long story short, as Jefferson Davis said, slavery was not the CAUSE, but rather the OCCASION for conflict. The North’s insistence on disallowing blacks from the territories in order to keep them for free white labor, the insistence of abolitionists in wanting the South to emancipate without any plan to compensate or integrate former slaves into the North, and constitutional questions of the Fugitive Slave Act and the allowance of slaves (and thereby Southern political influence) into the territories that would gain statehood, must be part of any discussion on how slavery relates to secession.
Aucoin neglects any of the questions that would cast the political situation of the 1860s in a more nuanced and balanced light. Instead he opts to let the reader assume a black and white false dilemma, insinuating that the South was in the black. We read in the article, “‘Often times the debate over the Civil War is whether the southern states seceded because of states’ rights or because of slavery,’ Aucoin said. ‘In part, it’s both, but mainly it’s because of slavery. States’ rights is simply the basis upon which they seceded.’ Aucoin quotes from the documents’ assertions of the ‘undeniable truth’ that Africans were an inferior race.” As shown previously, State’s rights vs. slavery as the cause for the war is an oversimplification. Aucoin seems to admit the false dilemma, but then turn right around as if to wink and say, “But we really know it’s over slavery!” A more accurate historical way to view “State’s rights vs. slavery” is to admit that the war was over State’s rights, and secession was partially connected to the political question of slavery. The central question of the war was, “Is a state allowed to leave?” A question the 13 original colonies were fortunate enough to have answered in the affirmative in contrast with their Southern descendants. The central question of secession was, “Would the South stay in a union in which the Constitution of that union was trampled on?” The South’s rights were not secure from her point of view. The tariff, the postal crisis, denominational divisions, the American System, the question of Southern influence in the territories, the disregard for the Fugitive Slave Act, John Brown and other radical abolitionists attempts to encourage slave insurrections, all factored into this question. To oversimplify the issue and then follow up with a quote about racial superiority is irresponsible—especially for a time in which almost every American (including Lincoln) believed in a kind of racial superiority. Racism is a weight large enough for both regions of America to bear.
Dr. Aucoin continues his anti-Southern address by turning our minds toward the purpose of Confederate monuments. He states, “The monuments, along with lynchings and segregation, he said, were intended to remind African Americans in the South that, ‘This is a white man’s region. We are superior. You are inferior. You need to know your place and as long as you maintain your place, we will have peace between the races. But if you challenge white supremacy, you will pay a high price.’” This may be the most ridiculous statement of all. Dr. Aucoin has taken on an unbearable burden of proof without, well, giving any proof! Aucoin teaches at an institution that prides itself on “exegetical preaching.” In other words, letting the text speak for itself and not imposing external meanings onto the text. This is however precisely what Aucoin does with history. He imposes an outside meaning, and one that will not ride no matter how many carrots you give it. Fortunately for lover’s of Dixie, civic groups which erected monuments left no doubt as to their true intentions in the form of plaques. I’ve probably seen hundreds of Confederate monuments, and not one of them says a thing about slavery or white “supremacy.” What they do talk about are sacrifice, honor, and bravery. They are to soldiers. Those who sacrificed life and limb for hearth and home. Now the question must be asked, “Why are those who agree with Dr. Aucoin hard-pressed to furnish proof?” If they can demonstrate that the majority of monuments incorporate racially insensitive language in their plaques it wouldn’t be such a hard sell. This proof does not exist however. Dr. Aucoin’s position would require us to believe that in a culture thoroughly embedded with racism, for some odd reason the racists who lived in it were not allowed to express their “real” feelings. . . because why? If the culture is racist, there would be no repercussion. Such is the absurdity that Dr. Aucoin wants us to buy into. I can’t speak for everyone, but this seminary student will continue to interpret both Confederate statues and the Bible exegetically.
The article ends with Aucoin quoted as stating that monuments “probably should not be on the grounds of government institutions, like the one that stood outside the old Durham County Courthouse before it was toppled by protesters.” It is a sad day indeed when those defending a local community should be barred from being honored by that community. I wonder whether or not Dr. Aucoin makes a distinction between Federal, State, and local authority? I’m not sure what the answer is, but one thing I am sure of- I am concerned for the institution I am attending. Aucoin is not alone in his sentiments. I do know there are professors who disagree, but they tend to keep quiet. One told me not too long ago that if he told people what he really thought he would likely be fired. That is not the kind of environment where learning can thrive. There must be debate. There must be opportunity for challenge. There must be humility. Instead, what I’m noticing more and more is an arrogance—a pride that says, “We can slander and disregard our Christian ancestors, especially to the sound of the applause coming from the world.” If the seminary continues in this direction it will not survive. The church must be different from the world, not attempting to gain the world’s respect or acceptance. One day Southern Baptists will learn that they will not achieve the acceptance they’re looking for, this student just hopes it will not be too late.