- - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, originally installed in the 1920s. They also voted 5-0 to rename Lee Park.

The cost to remove the equestrian statue will run about $300,000.

Council member Kristen Szakos supported the removal, explaining her vote as flowing from her Christian faith.

“Time after time in his teaching, Jesus called out the need to act with mercy for those with less power in society,” Szakos said.

This calling on Jesus for moral authority to take down a statue piqued my curiosity about Szakos, so I followed a link to her bio page as a Councilor and discovered that she and her husband have written books. And, they are community organizers, that vocational choice seldom heard of before Barack Obama began running for president in 2007. The Szakoses organized for Obama’s election in 2008.

I like books, so I hopped over to Amazon to see their works. In 2007, the couple published We Make Change: Community Organizers Talk About What They Do—And Why and stated:

“Community organizers are the people who work, often behind the scenes, to help people come together to effect meaningful change in their communities by building effective community organizations. …Wherever there is a well-organized group agitating for progressive social change, chances are there is a community organizer nearby.”

As I skimmed, I thought how so much of what I read sounded like Saul Alinsky’s books, almost as though there was a direct influence. In fact, there was, as Mr. Szakos knew and worked for Alinsky’s organization: “…I decided that I would work for Alinsky for one year. He was mostly traveling at that time, so I would work with somebody who had worked with him. …After two weeks on the job it was like dying and going to heaven. It was like I had found my niche. It was so exciting.”

Four decades after his death, Alinsky’s influence lives on — in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As the city now prepares to pull down the statue, I wonder what the outcome will be? Where will they place the statue—in a warehouse, out of sight? Or in another location, a less prominent place, but still accessible to future citizens looking to know what came before them?

Why was it put there in the first place? For honorable reasons or dishonorable? You’d have to go back into the historical records to see who funded the work, and then try and ascertain their motive. But what were they celebrating? Many of these statues from that era seem to have been funded by veterans of the Civil War—elderly Confederate soldiers and their families.

Szakos’ statement about Jesus irks me because, think what one may about Robert E. Lee and his decision to defend his home state of Virginia against the armies of Lincoln, Lee’s Christian faith cannot be questioned. 

Lee’s earthly remains rest in Lexington, Virginia, about 70 miles southeast from Charlottesville. If I were to drive through Lexington, I would make a point to stop and see the burial site. I would tell my children about Lee, and about the Civil War, and about Jim Crow, and about the present state of race relations in America—including these 3-2 decisions by City Councils led by professional community organizers to “help people come together to effect meaningful change in their communities.”

Which helps the overall community the most? Leaving a statue up or taking it down? Charlottesville’s representative body has decided on the latter. And that is their right (though it may be challenged in the courts). I just don’t think it is as cut-and-dry to claim Jesus would be on one side of this issue or the other.

On the other hand, though Szakos is a pro-choice supporter, what she said does fit perfectly with pro-life activism. After all, if as Szakos said, “Time after time in his teaching, Jesus called out the need to act with mercy for those with less power in society,” then I cannot imagine anyone with “less power in society” than a baby in the womb.

And, as Priests for Life reminds us: “The African-American community bears a disproportionate number of these abortions. Although blacks make up 13% of the US population, black women have some 36% of the abortions. A Black baby is 5 times more likely to be killed in the womb than a White Baby.”

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