Rob Buckingham's Blog

Erasing History

One of the phenomena related to the race protests is the toppling of statues, removal of certain movies and TV programs, and suggestions for name changes. Some people have suggested this is wrong because it’s erasing history. But is that the case?

Statues

I wonder how much the average person knows about the history represented by statues. Next time you see a statute, stop for a moment to observe. How many people actually slow down to look at it or read the plaque? Probably no one. Statues are, by and large, resting places for birds. They are monuments to history and a testament to what life was like at the time.

I understand that this is a divisive issue. Maybe some statues do need to be removed and placed in a museum. Others may benefit from an information board, or a more artistic approach, giving acknowledgment to historical facts. The statue of Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park is inscribed with “Discovered this territory 1770.” From a British colonial standpoint, this is true. Still, it completely ignores the fact that Australia’s Indigenous people lived here for thousands of years before Cook arrived.

For too long, history has been white-washed. As a Christian man, I stand for truth, so let’s have it, the good, the bad, and the ugly! In this regard, the Bible is an incredibly honest book. Its pages contain historical accounts of the best and worst of humanity. People’s mistakes aren’t left out. Everything is there in glorious colour: Noah getting drunk, Abraham lying, and King David’s adultery and coverup.

Scripture & History

Just like history, the Bible is not a static book. In its pages, you’ll find human progress and advancement, and God engaging with and nudging people along every step of the way. For example, in Genesis 22, we see the story of God directing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Understanding that in Abraham’s culture, one appeased the gods through child sacrifice, helps us understand why Abraham didn’t question this command. God let Abraham follow through up to the point of taking the knife to slay his son. Abraham was told, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him.” A ram was provided as an alternative to child sacrifice, and ancient humanity was prodded into a less barbaric practice.

It’s not that God desired or required animals to be sacrificed either. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God frequently tells people he doesn’t want sacrifices. People start to get the message, “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; you are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, you will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:16-17). Finally, Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to end all blood sacrifices once and for all (Hebrews 10:4-9). Today, the thought of sacrificing children or animals is abhorrent. We’ve come a long way. The Bible, history books, documentaries, and the like are a testament to this truth.

Embrace History Lessons

The Bible doesn’t erase history, it embraces it and then moves it forward. We can look back at some of the Bible’s writings from 3,000 years ago and be horrified. But, at the time, many of the statements, laws, and practices were incredibly progressive. Consider that Leviticus was one of the first times any sort of justice was prescribed for women, slaves, and non-Jews. Today, these same statements appear archaic and barbaric, and they are because humanity has progressed.

In the first century, the apostle Paul gave instructions on the proper care of slaves. He also told Christian slaves and slave-masters how to behave. In the Roman Empire of the first century, there were between 70 and 100 million people. About 50% of these were slaves. The economy of the entire Empire was dependent on slavery. The world wasn’t ready to abolish slavery. If William Wilberforce had been alive, he would not have led an abolition movement.

Fast-forward eighteen hundred years and the world was ready – or at least some were ready – to agree to abolish slavery. Thanks to Wilberforce and many others, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 abolished slavery in most of the British Empire. Of course, that doesn’t mean there is no slavery in the modern world. People trafficking, especially sex trafficking of women and children, is still rife. India, China, and Russia are the most-offending nations. It’s estimated there are currently 15,000 people in slavery in Australia.

How Far We’ve Come

If we look back one hundred or two hundred years, we can see how far we’ve come. Acceptable practices then are abhorrent now. We must not erase history, we need to know, and acknowledge it, and vow not to repeat it. Let’s look back and be encouraged by how the world has improved. Let’s also realise there is still much work to be done. While poverty, discrimination, and inequality exist, our job is incomplete. And it invariably takes a crisis to force the world forward. That’s what we’re witnessing now. And yes, some will be opportunistic, and others will be violent. Like the suffragettes whose motto was, “deeds not words!” Today, women have the right to vote because of the work of the Suffragettes!

Deeds are what we need now. One hundred years from now, people will look back and wonder at some of the things we say, believe, or agree with. History will record how the pandemic of 2020 moved the world forward. How racial protests brought lasting change and equality for people of colour. How names were changed, and statues removed, and laws introduced to make the world a fairer place.

No doubt, we will zigzag down this path. Somethings will work others won’t. But let’s not erase history. Let’s learn from it.

 

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