The following meditation was written by Doug Hood\’s son,
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University
“When he got near the camp and saw the bull calf and the dancing, Moses was furious. He hurled the tablets down and shattered them in pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it in a fire. Then he ground it down to crushed powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.”
Every November 13th in Bristol, England, schoolchildren are given large sweet buns mixed with dried fruits and tasty spices. These massive buns come with eight wedge marks, all the better for breaking off and sharing with other children and their families. It’s a fine lesson in practical charity, and the buns themselves are named after Edward Colston, one of the most noted philanthropists in Bristol’s history. When he died in 1721 he left a legacy of giving that continues to this day—walk the streets of Bristol and you’ll see buildings, schools, and churches founded or sponsored by Colston still bearing his name. The one thing you won’t see, at least anymore, is the statue of Colston that used to stand in the city’s center, as it was toppled, desecrated, and shoved into the nearby harbor on June 7, 2020 by protestors enraged by the police murder of George Floyd in the United States. For Edward Colston, benefactor of Bristol, model of Christian charity, namesake of a delicious children’s treat, made his fortune selling kidnapped Africans into slavery.
We live in the midst of a literal historical reckoning. As millions spill into the streets the world over to protest police brutality and anti-black violence, people are taking long, hard looks at their countries’ histories and reconsidering who are worth revering. These “reconsiderations” are particularly pronounced here in America, a land still steeped in legacies of racial hatred and mob violence. Statues of colonizers and slaveholders dot our public buildings and national landmarks, and even now there remain an estimated 1,800 monuments, statues, and official symbols memorializing the Confederacy (most of which, tellingly, were erected during the Jim Crow era to intimidate newly freed black communities). And now many of these are getting the Colston treatment. In Richmond, Virginia a statue of Robert E. Lee was desecrated with graffiti. In New Orleans a bust of John McDonogh, public school patron and slave magnate, was toppled and smashed. And in Boston, a famous statue of Christopher Columbus, one of the greatest butchers in human history, was beheaded.
The point of these protests isn’t to erase history, but to tear down the false idols erected to enshrine false legacies. How can any nation who purports to believe in egalitarian equality dedicate public space to men who enslaved their fellow human beings or fought a war to keep them in shackles? In the Book of Exodus, we can find an eerie parallel to our current national crisis of conscience when the Israelites, fresh from a 400 year captivity in Egypt, turned from the God who freed them and erected a golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai. This golden calf was more than just an idol, as some scholars believe it was an Apis Bull, an object of cult worship in Egypt. It would seem that just as the Israelites grumbled in the desert for the bread and meat of their captors, they grumbled too for their gods. Just as we in the West cling to the imagined legacy of charitable slaveholders and magnanimous colonizers, the Israelites clung to an imagined history of prosperity in bondage.
Moses’ response was swift, brutal, and effective. Not only did he destroy the golden calf, he had it crushed, mixed with water, and consumed by its worshippers. They were, quite literally, forced to choke on their blasphemous idolatry. So now must we in the West also choke on our own false worship. In particular, we as a larger Christian community must stand as an example and follow Moses’ example and exorcise the false idols of white supremacy and racial violence from our pasts. Though we believe in the sanctity of all God’s children and the ultimate salvation of all who truly repent of their sins and follow Jesus—slaveholders and colonizers included—there’s no reason to preserve their legacies of bloodshed and terror. It’s not just the moral thing to do, it’s the biblical thing to do. It’s time we cast our idols into the harbor next to the golden calf and Edward Colston.