Jim Harnish

Statues and Splinters


Jesus said, How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:4-5)

I had a splinter under my finger nail not long ago.  It was a small thing.  I ignored it for awhile. But finally it became so painful that I had to dig it out.  The splinter had to go.

About Those Confederate Statues 

A statue of Robert E. Lee used to welcome worshippers to Duke University Chapel.  Lee’s likeness stood between Thomas Jefferson and the Southern poet, Sidney Lanier.  The sculptors inscribed “US” on his belt buckle, perhaps suggesting that we remember who Lee was when he fought for the United States instead of the Confederacy.   Years ago someone chiseled away at those letters, no doubt an attempt to protect Confederate “heritage.”  It was vandalized again last week after the events in Charlottesville.

Lee has been there since the chapel opened in 1932.  Many people never noticed.  Those who did accepted it as a small thing, a remnant of Southern history.  But this week the presence of Lee’s statue, like a splinter under a finger nail, became so painful that it had to be removed.

Splinters and Logs 

The problem is that just removing statues is too easy.  It can make us feel like we have done something when we haven’t begun to touch the subtle forms of racism that are imbedded in our culture and our lives. It’s a little like removing sprinters without paying attention to the logs.

The logs are much harder to remove. To get at them, we have to dig deeper into our hearts to confront the subtle influence of racism that is so deeply imbedded within us that we don’t even realize it is there.  That’s why Jesus asked the disturbing question: How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye?”

Only a Beginning 

The President of Duke University knew that removing the statue was just a beginning.  He wrote:

We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.

He formed a commission that includes faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees and members of the Durham community to “assist us in navigating the role of memory and history at Duke.” His commission will “recommend principles drawn from Duke’s core values to guide us when questions arise.”  That’s then kind of work it takes to remove the logs along with the splinters.

A Matter of the Heart

For followers of Christ, the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart.  At the center of the Methodist tradition is John Wesley’s emphasis on the process by which the Spirit of God fulfills the promise, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) Wesley called it “sanctification” or “being made perfect in love.”  It’s the process we described in “A Disciple’s Heart”.

It’s not enough to remove stone statues.  We also need to heal stoney hearts.

Grace and peace,