Were it not bad enough that “cancel culture” operates in the present day to force people out of their jobs, it now goes further. In a new and widespread phenomenon, it is reaching backwards into history, with the tearing down of statues, the renaming of institutions and the defacing of plaques and historic sites.

Examples abound:

  • Beginning in 2015, there were calls to rename the Rhodes Scholarship and remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford and various other universities. The movement is called “Rhodes must fall”;
  • The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London was totally encased in a protective box during the Black Lives Matter protests and remained that way for some time;
  • Here in Australia, the statue of James Cook was surrounded by police officers during the Black Lives Matter protests in Hyde Park, Sydney;
  • Across America, statues of everyone from Christopher Columbus to Thomas Jefferson and even George Washington have been targeted;
  • A Wikipedia page set up to list statues either destroyed by protesters or removed by authorities lists examples across the West, including the US, UK, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, and others.

What are we to make of this?

We might start by noting how the erasure of history is a feature of Marxist movements – it makes the tearing down of the present easier if the historical foundations from which we have emerged are missing.

This is a point well made by none other than President Donald Trump. Amid open speculation that Mount Rushmore would be next to be attacked, he went to South Dakota and gave a speech at the site. The media reported it as an angry speech because it was, in fact, a very good speech – not especially angry at all – and well worth a watch:

The President made a very important point – this view of history is mindless. It’s ignorant. It’s so monumentally out of touch with the true nature of things and the true nature of these people who have been commemorated in statues that it can only be described as a thoroughly ignorant movement. Trump said:

“…all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond recognition.”

He’s right. To put a lens over the lives of these men or the periods in which they lived which purely extracts the bad things that happened or were believed – with the benefit of hindsight – is dishonest to history itself. It twists the truth about these times.

Like our own time, they were more complex. There was much good, and there was great evil, as there has been in every age. The point is that those who are born in dark times are to shine the light and stand for righteousness – and we will always do it imperfectly – but these people did it less imperfectly than many.

Trump went on to speak about the four men commemorated on Mount Rushmore – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Of Washington, he noted:

  • From a small volunteer force of citizen farmers, he created the continental army out of nothing, to take on the greatest military power in the world. Through 8 long years, bitter winters, under-resourced to the point of having no boots on their feet, in the face of certain defeat, they prevailed.
  • Then, he returned to Mount Vernon as a private citizen, never claiming power.
  • But he was asked to return to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and he was unanimously elected President.
  • His former adversary, King George, called him, “the greatest man of the age.”

Of Jefferson, he noted:

  • That he authored the Declaration of Independence at the age of just 33 – one of the most brilliant documents of human history.
  • He further drafted Virginia’s constitution, and wrote the Virginia statute for religious freedom which was the model for the First Amendment.
  • Besides becoming Secretary of State, Vice President, and President, he was – astonishingly – also an architect, inventor, diplomat, scholar, and the founder of the University of Virginia which remains a renowned academic institution to this day.

Of Lincoln, he noted:

  • He was a self-taught country lawyer who grew up in a log cabin on the frontier in obscurity.
  • He signed the law that built the transcontinental railroad and served as commander in chief of the war that extinguished the evil of slavery. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation and led the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery for all time.
  • His service ultimately cost him his life when he was assassinated on 15 April 1865 at the age of 56.

Of Roosevelt, he noted:

  • He was Police Commissioner of New York City, during which time he cleaned up corruption, then became Governor of New York, the Vice-President of the United States, then President. All this and he was only 42 – the youngest President in history.
  • He constructed the Panama Canal and established many national parks.
  • He is the only person ever to be awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honour.

How have we become so ignorant that we think history is just a rolling saga of powerful men, sitting around like the guy on the front of the Monopoly game, smoking fat cigars, lobbing money everywhere, raping, pillaging, “racisting”, and laughing with each other about how powerful they are? It has almost become that comical.

What have you done with your life? If you think that this level of achievement comes without great cost, sacrifice and arduous toil, then the answer is very little, because you simply don’t know what it takes.

These are four great men. Men who did more for this world than 1 in a billion. Because they believed in service, personal discipline, sacrifice, fortitude, and things greater than themselves.

And yes, their faces on Mount Rushmore are the faces of sinners. Every statue torn down in recent months has been a statue of a sinner. Because there are no other kinds of statues.

But here is the moral snobbery of all this – frankly, the narcissism of it all – if a statue were built which depicted all the sin of your life, including your secret sin, you’d be utterly desperate to tear it down. The shame and mortification would ruin you.

What is the difference with these four men? They are sinners, like you, but they probably did a whole lot more than you to tame their sinful nature, build their character, and do great things which blessed others well beyond their lifetimes. Their statues are towers of virtue next to yours – both sinners, and yet look at what they did.

Jefferson at 33. Roosevelt at 42. Lincoln, from total obscurity, from nothing. Washington, a private citizen who heeded a call. Statues of sinners are the only kinds of statues that exist, because all are sinners.

Me too. You too.

There is a modern idea that we have an enlightened monopoly on virtue – that we are "goodies" emerging from a history of "baddies." If that were true, there would not be such evil in the world. If that were true, you'd not be ashamed of the aforementioned statue. If that were true, then Jesus wouldn't have had to be cursed and die for you, but it's not, so He did.

A realistic view of things will see a person say this, with the Apostle Paul:

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief..." – 1 Tim. 1:15

We honour and respect those who came before us, because despite their sin, they did great things. And to the extent that we see their sin with the benefit of hindsight, we learn from that, too. We who are sinners need warnings and lessons, as much as we need inspiration and encouragement.