Our Flawed Heroes

If perfection is our measure, there can be no statues in the public square.

Happy 244th Birthday, America!  Or so we wish.  But this Fourth of July is anything but happy.  It seems that our nation has descended into madness.  While governors and mayors dither, anarchists run amok through our streets. I feel like I’m watching an apocalyptic movie like Mad Max or The Night of the Living Dead. 

     When leaders abdicate, the words of Judges 21:25 come true: “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” While mobs are threatening to reduce everything to Ground Zero, we would do well to remember the warning of Benjamin Franklin.  When the Continental Congress ended, a woman yelled, “What have you given us?”  The old statesman replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”  The self-described Marxists who run Black Lives Matter, and the socialists in our city councils and congress seem hellbent on destroying the republic. Hank Newsome, the New York City director of BLM said in a television interview, “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn the system down and replace it.” 

     Sadly, major corporations are pouring millions of dollars into BLM.  It reminds me of something Vladimir Lenin said as he boasted of a global Communist takeover: “We will hang the West, and those capitalists will even sell us the rope to do it.”  What’s even sadder is to watch evangelical pastors jump on board this runaway train.   

     But what concerns me most about the mob, is to see statues of national heroes being toppled and sacred monuments spray painted with obscene graffiti, while police stand by doing nothing and some political leaders even applaud.  These memorials may only be symbols, but symbols matter.

     I understand taking down statues of Confederate generals.  These men violated their oaths to uphold our Constitution, turned traitor to our country, and fought to perpetuate slavery.  I despise the Confederate flag and other symbols that stood for segregation, Jim Crow and any other form of racism. These images rightfully belong in museums as part of our history, but not in places of honor. 

     Yet these anarchists aren’t interested in any history that doesn’t fit their narrative. Nor are they concerned about honor or patriotism.  They have desecrated or torn down statues of George Washington, sprayed graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial and the World War 2 Memorial in Washington DC, toppled statues of abolitionists, desecrated a mass grave of African-American Civil War soldiers, and even torn down a statue honoring Ulysses S. Grant.  That the so-called enemies-of-all-things-racist would take down a memorial to General Grant is an act of supreme irony.  Frederick Douglass, the great African-American abolitionist, said that Grant had done more to advance the cause of black people in America than anyone else. What was his sin that caused the mob to rip him off his granite pedestal?  He married a woman whose family owned slaves.  No one can be pure enough for these perpetrators of insanity, who have been schooled by progressive educators that America is evil. 

     On this Fourth of July weekend, let’s get real.  Our Founders had hearts of iron, but feet of clay.  They weren’t perfect.  None of our heroes are!  Thomas Jefferson penned the words of our Declaration of Independence.  But he had a limited view of those immortal words, “All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”  Women, blacks, and Native Americans were not numbered among his all men.  He was a slave owner who fathered bi-racial children and then consigned them to slavery.  Yet, he conceived many of the principles of government that gifted us our freedoms.  Martin Luther King said of Jefferson and our other flawed founding fathers, “They didn’t have it all right, but they made the down payment on the liberties we are still struggling to gain today.”  

     We venerate our heroes because they had hearts of iron.  We should never forget that they also had feet of clay.  Moses was a murderer.  Sampson was a he-man with a she-weakness.  King David committed adultery and then murdered the woman’s husband.  St. Peter was a coward.  St. Paul incited mobs to kill Christians.  St. Augustine was a man of monumental lusts. Martin Luther was a virulent anti-Semite.  George Washington sold a slave to get a set of wooden teeth. Abraham Lincoln suspended Constitutional rights to preserve the Union.  Ulysses S. Grant saved the United States, but he was also a drunkard.  Our heroes are never perfect.  Yet, at a critical moment in time, they rose above mere mortality to do immortal things.  Without these flawed heroes we would be living in a netherworld where there are no Fourth of July, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, or Thanksgiving holidays.  Stones would never become statues, and metal would never be crafted into memorials that make us all remember the shoulders on which we stand, and aspire to leave a legacy of something better to future generations.   

     I’m glad heroes are flawed because we are too.  We can dare to believe that we too can rise up and do heroic things.  If we couldn’t believe that the extraordinary is within reach of the most ordinary people, no one would risk wishing upon a star that their dreams come true.  For no other reason than that, every city square and town park should have memorials to flawed people, who occasionally rise up to do amazing feats. 

    However, on this day that celebrates human dignity and freedom, I do wish that someone would take down those statues of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.  This woman was one of the most virulent racists in American history.  One only has to read her writings to see that she was committed to eliminating people of color.  She associated with racists and anti-Semites, people who despised everyone who was not a Nordic god or goddess, and those who demanded coercive eugenics programs to eliminate “lesser” humans. Her American Birth Control League, which morphed into Planned Parenthood, would have thrived in the Third Reich.  Her vision lives on in Planned Parenthood operations that still kill a disproportionate number of unborn African American babies.  She was far more racist than Robert E. Lee or Forest Bedford.  It is no more appropriate for her statue to adorn a public place, than to have a memorial to Adolf Hitler or the founder of the KKK.  Yet no BLM or Antifa mobs are rushing to topple Margaret Sanger from her undeserved pedestals.  

    There is a lot to be unhappy about this Fourth of July holiday.  But there have been other times of craziness in our history when it seemed that Mr. Franklin’s Republic was on the verge of being lost.  We have always survived before.  May we do so again.  We at Legacy Imperative choose to look with pride and thanksgiving at our flawed heroes.  We hope that they will continue to adorn our public places, reminding us that we ordinary grandparents and parents can leave an extraordinary legacy to those who come behind us.  They may never erect a memorial to us on the Mall in Washington DC, but God just might enshrine us in his Faith Hall of Fame.  Or, at the very least, he will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servants!”

 Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative