Sankofa Reflection 2019: The True Tragedy of the Ku Klux Klan
I have always known that Klansmen were terrorists. I could easily identify their distinctive dress (white robes) and their symbol of terror (the cross). But sometimes the things you know fail to really hit home. It was not until I was face to face with those symbols at a museum in Birmingham, AL [while on the Sankofa Journey] that I saw the true tragedy and tasted the true terror.
The True Tragedy
I stood before a glass case and stared at the white robed figure in front of me complete with the high hood and the slits for the eyes. It was an eerie, unsettling sight. But then I looked upon the cross behind the Klansmen. It was at that moment that it really hit me. I was witnessing the worst kind of achievement: the total contradiction of the cross. They took the Christian symbol of salvation from sin and sinfully stripped it of all of its meaning. Instead of heralding its power to save, they taunted its true meaning by touting its power to oppress. They were not proclaiming Christ’s cross; they were reclaiming Rome’s cross.
The Cross of Rome
The cross was a torture device that the Romans used as a terror device. The cross was a symbol of what those in power could do to anyone who dared to oppose them. The cross stood as an ominous warning for subjected people to know their proper place and stay in their subjugation. If you cross us, we will crucify you.
The Cross of Christ
Jesus’ death on the cross changed the message of the cross to the core. He transformed the cross from a symbol of oppression to a symbol of salvation. Jesus was condemned on the cross in our place so we can proclaim that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Racism contradicts the cross because the cross ransoms every race. Christ redeemed people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9).
Conclusion: The Cross of the Klan and True Terror
The Ku Klux Klan used the cross as a symbol of terror. I lament the fact that Christians in this country have to redeem the symbol of their redemption. Staring at that cross and the contradiction of it all just wrecked me. I stood there trying to understand in some small sense the full measure of how the King Eternal feels about what they have done with his cross. At that moment, I tasted true terror. The real cross of Christ saves us from the burning wrath of God. The fire of God’s wrath fell on Christ on the cross so that it would never fall on us. Getting the cross right means that we receive what Christ did for us by faith and by grace we stand on singed ground. The fire fell there once and will never fall there again and so we are saved from the wrath to come. If we get the cross wrong, we will face the wrath of God and experience the truest of terrors: the eternal fires of hell. In the end, the Ku Klux Klan wrongly used the cross as a warning and now they serve as a warning against getting the cross wrong.
Photo taken by Jason Meyer at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Pastor Jason Meyer is the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He went on the Sankofa Journey the first week of May 2019 with Transform Minnesota and 38 other Twin Cities faith leaders