Does the Confederate flag honor a proud Southern heritage or slight the descendants of former slaves? It's a question that stirs deep emotions on both sides.
Hundreds of people contacted church offices after the ELCA Conference of Bishops agreed to bypass South Carolina as a meeting place to support the NAACP boycott called because the Confederate flag flies over the capitol.
"What we did is an important voice in this continuing issue," said South Carolina Synod Bishop David Donges. The synod assembly has twice called for the flag's removal. His office has been swamped with E-mail, letters and phone calls expressing mixed reaction.
Messages were also sent to churchwide offices after Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson explained the ELCA's position to South Carolina politicians. "We are ... aware that some citizens of the state regard the flag as a symbol of heritage rather than racism," he wrote. "Yet we believe that the heritage can be honored in a way that does not exacerbate painful memories for others."
South Carolina Gov. James Hodges wrote back, acknowledging that the flag is "a divisive and painful issue. While I personally believe the Confederate flag should be removed, this matter clearly has to be resolved by the Legislature."
The flag has caused controversy elsewhere as well. In October, U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., delayed ratification of Carol Moseley-Braun as ambassador to New Zealand over remarks she made as an Illinois senator about the Confederate flag in 1993. When the Daughters of the Confederacy sought to renew its emblem, which contains the flag, Moseley-Braun called the flag an affront to African Americans.
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