By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – On June 11, Bishop Joseph Kopacz and a group of religious leaders from all different faiths gathered on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Peter to rally for the removal of the Mississippi state flag with its Confederate battle flag image. The movement comes about with the renewed focus on race relations in the wake of George Floyd’s death and in response to the peaceful protests by Black Lives Matter Mississippi at the Governor’s Mansion on June 6 by the community members present who called for the removal of Confederate symbolism in the state.
Working Together Mississippi, who organized the rally, is the state’s most diverse coalition of faith and civic institutions. The group believes that the state and country stand at an historic moment in the work of repentance from American’s sin of slavery and systemic racism. The current Mississippi State flag with the Confederate battle flag at its center conveys a message and history that the group rejects.
Mississippi is the only state whose flag still contains the confederate battle flag since Georgia changed its flag in 2003. In 2001, Mississippians voted in favor of keeping the current state flag.
At the start of the rally at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Bishop Kopacz said the mission for the event was to be “one strong voice in opposition to the current state flag.”
“We are looking to push [the flag] to be removed and be replaced by a flag that truly represents who we are in Mississippi and the 21st century.”
Bishop Kopacz also talked to the gathered press and on-lookers about the story of Joshua and Israelites and marching around the city of Jericho. “If you recall the way those walls came down, they had a long, long shout and that wall came tumbling down,” said Bishop Kopacz.
“So, our voices are strong to make sure that the flag comes down and that again this noble mission be accomplished with something that is so much better for our state at this time.”
The faith leaders gathered for the event represented many Christian denominations, as well as Jewish, Islamic and Muslim religious leaders.
Rachel Glazer, representing Jackson’s Jewish community, said “As the modern lynching’s of black people by police have risen to the forefront of the national consciousness, we can no longer claim that this issue is merely one of historical significance. To be complacent on this issue is to be complicit.”
Bishop Ronnie Crudup, Sr. of New Horizon International Church told the crowd, “By not changing the flag we are saying to the world, nothing has changed.”
He called upon State leadership “to let the world know, as well as the citizens across Mississippi that it’s a new day in Mississippi. It is a time of change.”
Overall, the church leaders present were not focused on what the Mississippi state flag would be changed to, but rather getting the current one down.
“Give us a flag that all of us can all be proud of,” urged Bishop Joseph Campbell of the Church of Christ (Holiness) of the South-Central Diocese. “For me, the Confederate flag is like a large splinter that in my hand every time I see it.”
Rachel Glazer reminded those present that we are all created in God’s image. “The confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi state flag is a mockery of that divine spark. It celebrates the dehumanization of non-white and non-Christian people. We cannot stand idly by while the blood of our neighbors is smeared on the flag over the very building where we expect those leaders to act in all of our best interest.”
Bishop Brian Seage of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi said, “We come together to ask Governor Reeves, Lieutenant Governor Hosemann and Speaker Gunn to come together and remove a symbol that has been a source of division.”
Only hours after the religious leader’s rally, Senators David Blount and Derrick Simmons introduced a resolution to let lawmakers vote to get rid of the Mississippi state flag.
On the other hand, Governor Tate Reeves believes that the flag should only be changed by a vote by the people. He was quoted at his daily briefing on Monday, June 8 stating with regard to a change to the Mississippi state flag, “that if and when [the people] want to change the flag that will be a decision they can make.”
Reverend Jason Coker of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi said that many call the Confederate battle flag history and said that many in his own family and friends hold tight to the current flag, calling it “their heritage.” Reverend Coker says, “But I have to look at my children every day and hope for a better Mississippi. It comes at a point in crisis – do you choose family, or do you choose justice?”
He says that question is upon us now and urged legislators to tap into the best parts of themselves and “into the bedrock of our Christian faith when Jesus was asked the greatest commandment in the entire Bible. Jesus said love God and love your neighbor.”
Reverend Coker says that the time to love our neighbors is here. “Our current flag does not represent over 40% of the state we live in and it doesn’t offer any hope for our future,” said Reverend Coker. “I hope we can come together … and find a group of people to create a new symbol for us. A symbol that doesn’t look backwards, but a symbol that looks forward in hope. Not just for me, not just for us, but for our children and their children.”
At the close of the rally, Bishop Kopacz thanked all for coming together to share their powerful voices on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle and said it was a “proud moment for all” and for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.
“We are all together. One heart, one mind and one voice.”