Charleston South Carolina, a “shining city upon a hill”.
The year was 1630. The place was a ship named the “Arbella”, sailing up Massachusetts Bay. The Arbella was the flagship of the Winthrop Fleet of eleven ships that were routinely crossing the Atlantic, carrying hopeful souls to a new world. Back then, it could take anywhere from as little as 47 days, to over 120 days to make the journey across the treacherous seas. John Winthrop, a Puritan leader delivered a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity” to the settlers who were just completing the long journey from England to the New World. He began by saying:
“God Almighty in his most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection”
He talked further about how they, as Christians, were going to create a community in the New World, and he emphasized that the entire world is watching them, when he said,
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”
He further explained that Christian love is the most important thing by saying,
“First: This love among Christians is a real thing, not imaginary. Secondly: This love is as absolutely necessary to the being of the body of Christ, as the sinews and other ligaments of a natural body are to the being of that body. Thirdly: This love is a divine, spiritual nature free, active, strong, courageous, permanent…. this makes us nearer to resemble the virtues of our heavenly father… Fourthly: It rests in the love and welfare of its beloved.”
The first time I ever heard the idea of the “city upon a hill”, was when I started listening to my favorite American President, the 40th President of these United States of America, Ronald W. Reagan. He referenced that phrase on many occasions, but in his farewell address, delivered from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989. He said,
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace;”
The reason I am writing about this sermon by John Winthrop, and the speech by President Reagan, where he referenced Winthrop’s sermon, is because of the aftermath of the events of Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Charleston, SC. While the shooting itself was horrible and tragic, the immediate response from the citizens of Charleston was beautiful.
For a little more historical perspective, you have to understand that the American Civil War began in Charleston Harbor, when the armies of the soon to be Confederacy, fired upon the U.S. Army facility at Fort Sumter, on April 12, 1861. But before that, back on December 20, 1860, South Carolina was the first state to attempt to secede from the Union. After the Presidential election on November 6, 1860, where Abraham Lincoln, the leader of the “Radical Republican” Party made up primarily of abolitionist, won the Presidency, a secession convention was called by the South Carolina legislature, where the vote was 169-0 to secede from the United States.
It’s interesting to note that, while many are currently focusing on the Confederate Flag that still flies over the capitol dome in Columbia, the state of South Carolina has shown itself to be one of the most racially progressive states in America, at least in regards to their choices in senior elected officials. Back in 2008, Tim Scott ran for the seat of retiring Republican State Representative, Tom Dantzler, and won 53% of the votes in the Republican Primary, before going on to win the general election while running unopposed. Then, when U.S. Representative Henry Brown announced his retirement, Scott ran for the seat of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional district, which is based largely in Charleston. Scott won a plurality (32%) of the vote against eight other candidates in the Republican Primary, and then captured 68% of the vote in a run-off election. He went on to win 65% of the vote in the General Election, easily defeating the Democratic candidate, Benjamin Frasier, Jr.
Congressman Scott ran unopposed in the 2012 Primary, and easily won re-election in the general election with 62% of the vote. When U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) announced that he was retiring from the Senate to run the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, it was up to the Governor of South Carolina to appoint a replacement for him. It’s interesting that a state known for seceding from the union, and firing the first shots of the Civil War, had a female Governor, Nikki Haley, of Indian descent, (she was elected in 2010, with 51% of the vote, and re-elected in 2014 with 55.9% of the vote) who ended up appointing a Black man, Tim Scott, to fill the seat vacated by Jim DeMint on January 1, 2013.
It’s even more interesting that on November 4, 2014, when Congressman Scott had to run in a special election to earn the right to continue to be a U.S. Senator from South Carolina, he easily defeated his Democratic opponent, winning 757,215 votes, 61.1% of the votes of South Carolinians.
Despite the ugly history of the Confederacy, the people of the South have always been a proud people. But, it is precisely that ugly history, and the putrid lingering taste of racism that makes the response from the citizens so beautiful and sweet. As beautiful as the initial response was from the citizens of Charleston, they doubled-down and affirmed their Christianity on Sunday, June 21, 2015.
When large crowds of people gathered to cross the iconic Arthur Ravenel bridge, and held “The Bridge to Peace — Unity Chain”, while clapping and singing “This Little Light of Mine”, it was a slap in the face to, and total rejection and repudiation of the efforts of the race-baiters who want to divide this country along the most superficial and trivial things…the color of ones skin. Not only have the proud Southerners and citizens of Charleston honored the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, but 385 years after John Winthrop gave his beautiful sermon, they have proven that Charleston, South Carolina is just one community of believers in America, who have created a “shining city upon a hill” for the whole world to look upon, with hope for a better world.
Thank you Charleston, for once again proving the reality of American Exceptionalism.