Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Statues fall all the time as Shelley reminds us in his epic poem about pride and hubris. Sometimes that fall is met with near universal approval, the destruction of all those statues of Saddam Hussein for example. Other times it is met with condemnation and outrage, the damage and destruction of Confederate memorials in the Southern United States or the toppling of a statue of a slave trader in Bristol. Why the difference in response? Surely we can largely agree that dictatorships are wrong, that slavery is wrong. Why would we choose to protect something that celebrates those things?

I believe it is easier to see the speck in anothers eye than the log in our own. It is easier to see the evil of Saddam Hussein, half a world away, then it is to recognise the evil on our own doorstep.

This past week there has been a lot written about the toppling of a statue in Bristol. The statue was of Edward Colston, a man of means, a philanthropist who made his money through transporting and selling other human beings as slaves. That should be abhorrent to any person with even an ounce of empathy. The fact that people are complaining  about the pulling down of this statue saddens me. The people who say there were proper channels to go through when people have tried and been ignored sadden me. The people who think his philanthropy cancels out the pain, death and suffering his business caused sadden me. The people who think destroying the statue and keeping the results of his philanthropy is double standards sadden me. The people who think this is destroying history sadden me. Ignorance saddens me.

There is a great deal written about Colston being a man of his time and it is true, he was. All his actions, slave trade and philanthropy or history now. But the statue was raised nearly 200 years after his death and 60 years after slavery was abolished in Britain it was raised in a time when Bristol had a large black population because ex-slaves settled there after being freed.

We do not celebrate that period when Britain was key to the transatlantic slave trade. We recognise it, we teach it but could always teach it better. We do not need to celebrate Colston. We can recognise his philanthropy and slave trading fortune and acknowledge their connection without celebrating. We can talk about the people who lived because of him and the people who died because of him and accept that one does not negate the other. We can look at the wrongs done by people who look like us to people who are different. We can find the log in our own eye and apologise for the harm it stopped us seeing.

We can follow Jesus’s second great commandment and if the best way to do that is to tear down a few statues then so be it.

Author: missionerpete

i an the Pioneer Connexion Missioner for The Meon Valley Methodist Circuit. Also husband, father and artist though not always in that order.

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