Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., signed a letter, along with more than 150 Memphis-area religious leaders, expressing support for a call to relocate a Confederate statue.
The memorial to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and Confederate general during the U.S. Civil War, is prominently displayed in a public park near downtown Memphis.
Image captured from Google Street View
More than 150 religious leaders in the Memphis area, including Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, are calling for the relocation of a monument of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The group of clergy, which included leaders from a wide range of Christian and Jewish traditions, sent the document to the Tennessee Historical Commission Sept. 13 to show agreement with a waiver request submitted by Mayor Jim Strickland to have the statue removed, according to local news reports.
They celebrated the city as “a wonderful place made even better by our diversity” and emphasized the importance of understanding civic history in its “full context.”
The letter said, “this statue does not convey the complete story of our city’s rich history and could better serve the pursuit of understanding and educating the public as well as future generations in a more historically appropriate site.”
Read the full statement below:
To the members of the Tennessee Historical Commission:
We are Memphis clergy white and black, young and old, Christian and Jew, transcending every political party. We want you to know how much we support Mayor Jim Strickland’s request for a waiver under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act to relocate the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest to a more historically appropriate site.
By no means are we seeking to erase history. It is imperative that we understand history; the foundations of our society, of our country, and our faith traditions are built on that. But it is also important that we understand historical figures and events in their full context. It was not until 1905 – half a century after the Civil War and in the throes of the implementation of Jim Crow laws across the South – that the statue of Forrest was placed in a public square. This monument to Forrest belongs elsewhere, not in the center of our city’s hub. Beyond the historical inaccuracy and geographic irrelevancy of his monument, it does not represent who we are as people of faith.
Memphis is a wonderful place made even better by our diversity. Many have voiced concerns that this statue does not convey the complete story of our city’s rich history and could better serve the pursuit of understanding and educating the public as well as future generations in a more historically appropriate site.
We appreciate your service to Tennessee. Commemorating our state’s rich history is significant to all of us, thus we make our respectful plea. As leaders of the faith community in Memphis, representing every corner of the theological spectrum, we strongly urge you to grant Mayor Jim Strickland’s request for a waiver to relocate the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that stands in the heart of our city.