Confederate flag defenders make quixotic last stand on S.C. Senate floor

Sens. Bright and Verdin talk theology, Reagan, and the rainbow of ‘abomination’

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The S.C. Senate voted overwhelmingly this afternoon to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds, but not until after two state senators engaged in some grandiose and at times unhinged speechifying in defense of the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Sens. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) and Daniel Verdin (R-Laurens) unleashed their considerable oratorical talents ostensibly in favor of a pair of amendments they had proposed to the flag removal bill, although sometimes the connection was unclear. Bright, whose amendment would have set up a non-binding voter referendum on the issue of whether the flag should be removed, started the day off by hijacking the debate to talk about the Gay Agenda:

Members of the Senate, I heard our president sing a religious hymn, and then Friday night I watched the White House be lit up in the abomination colors. It's time — we've got "Amazing Grace," we've got people in the stands here of faith — it is time for the church to rise up, it's time for the state of South Carolina to rise up. Romans Chapter 1 is clear, the Bible is clear, this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and they are under assault by men in black roaches — robes who were not elected by you. We've got to make a stand ...

Our governor called us in to deal with the flag that sits out front. Let's deal with the national sin that we face today. We talk about abortion, but this gay marriage thing, I believe we'll be one nation gone under — like President Reagan said, if we're not one nation under god, we'll be one nation gone under. And to sanctify deviant behavior from five judges, it's time for us to make our stand, church, and we're not doing it. We can rally together and talk about a flag all we want, but the devil is taking control of this land, and we're not stopping him ... Now I believe that Christ teaches us to love the homosexual, but he also teaches us to stand in the gap against sin. And we need to make our stand.

Later in the day, when Bright introduced his amendment, he took the time to explain the Christian symbolism of the Confederate flag:

I see so much emotion that has gone around this chamber because obviously we've lost a colleague, and we want to honor that colleague, and I understand we're going to hang his picture on the wall. We're never going to forget him; he's always going to be in our hearts. But I just can't see how the two correlate in saying that the folks that wave that flag — that St. Andrew's Cross, where St. Andrew did not want to be crucified like Christ, he didn't think he deserved it, that he wanted Christ alone to be notified or dignified with that position, and he wanted to be crucified as an angle — and that's where that St. Andrew's Cross comes from.

The other senators didn't get into the weeds on the theology of the big X at the center of the Confederate flag, but Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman was quick to point out that the state Supreme Court might rule a referendum on the issue unconstitutional. "I'm not against people voting. I think it's great to allow them to vote," Leatherman said. "But they elect us to come here and make these decisions for them, and I think if we don't do that, we're derelict in our duties."

Bright is a frequent and easy mark for national media outlets looking for headscratcher quotes. But today, Sen. Verdin one-upped his colleague with an emotional, at times Faulknerian speech that combined theological musings, broad brushstrokes of historical analysis, and a comparison of Verdin's own mission with that of the 16th-century Christian reformer Martin Luther (seriously):

I'm thankful to say that as I gather with fellow Carolinians across the state, whether to mark a grave or to decorate a memorial monument, I don't know that anyone there goes to commune. We go there to remember. When I say 'commune,' commune with spirit. Outside communion and the presence and the direct anointment by God of his Holy Spirit, I don't sense communion with the spirit of my ancestors. To the degree that they speak to me historically, to the degree that the record reflects that they were committed to truth, honor, integrity, that speaks to me. To the degree that they were all, as I, a fallen creature represented in the fall of Adam, depraved, sin-sick, sore, to that degree they speak to me. ...

In speaking for my great-great grandfather and the multiplied hundreds of thousands of people that I could have been speaking for — and I was and am — but speaking to my children and grandchildren, I feel the same compelling drive that I read of Martin Luther, five centuries ago, when in a great time of social and religious turmoil and controversy he was heavily induced and the arts of persuasion were mightily brought to bear in his life, for him to turn his hand at the time from his ministry, from his message, and his response was, before the gathered world, "I cannot go against my conscience, for it is neither right nor safe."

Verdin's amendment would have required that the Confederate flag be flown only from sun-up to sundown every year on Confederate Memorial Day (May 10). The Senate tabled Bright's amendment by a 36-3 vote, Verdin's by a 22-17 vote. The Senate voted 37-3 on its second reading of the bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds, with the three nay votes coming from Bright, Verdin, and Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee). The Senate will read the bill a third time on Tuesday. If the bill passes, it will go to the House of Representatives for approval.

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