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From Rev. Jeremy Simons, Cathedral Chaplain
July 14, 2020

On July 8, the city of Trenton removed the statue of Christopher Columbus from its pedestal in Columbus Park, near the Trenton train station. In Pennsauken, crews removed the monument from Cooper River Park along North Park Drive on July 7. Christopher Columbus’ statue in Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia, just north of the Schuylkill Expressway, has been boxed in and will be removed soon.
Trenton’s Mayor W. Reed Gusciora said: “The current national debate on racial justice has led to a long overdue examination of how we honor our past, including our statues, monuments, and the names of our parks and schools. Our communities rightfully expect that the individuals we celebrate actually represent the principles of freedom and equality that we all hold dear.”
When it comes to the monuments of the Confederate Civil War heroes, most Americans see this as an attempt on the part of white Southerners to protest their defeat and romanticize their “lost cause,” without a shred of repentance for the evil that slavery inflicted on black Americans. It is incredible that the statues were ever allowed to go up in the first place.
Christopher Columbus, however, is a different sort of figure. Does the New Church have anything to say here?
I have just read “Admiral of the Ocean Sea,” Samuel Morison’s 1942 book about Columbus. Dated, but still regarded as the authoritative account of his life, the book describes both the idealism and the rampant wickedness of 15th century Christianity.
Columbus and the Spanish sovereigns seem to be genuinely interested in the spread of Christianity. But the casual brutality of their society, and its continual economic and political precariousness, meant that this stated goal was always subordinate to the demands of financial and political survival. Even though the explorers were delighted by the often unbelievably innocent and generous people in the New World, they wasted no time in taking their goods and women, pressing them into a search for gold, and carrying them back to Spain as slaves.
Columbus seems to have attempted to limit and prevent much of this, but it was implicit in the setup, and the results speak for themselves. Columbus can be seen as a hero, and has traditionally been viewed that way, but he can just as easily be seen as representing the massive injustices that have been visited on the peoples of the Americas over the past 500 years.
The Writings are in wholehearted agreement with this assessment of the immorality and cruelty of the Europeans. A recognition of this behavior is key to the New Church concept of the fall of Christianity. At the same time, the Writings explain that the providential reason for this exploration and commerce was so that the Word would be spread (Sacred Scripture 108). Sure enough, despite the behavior of Europeans all over the world, the Word has been spread. Christianity is larger than any other religion. It continues to grow rapidly, and the vast majority of believers are non-Europeans, setting the stage for the new spiritual era that is the New Church.
New Church teachings can support either side of the question of Christopher Columbus’ statues. But they are unambiguous in supporting racial equality and in denouncing the long history of injustice towards people of color, not only in this country but all over the world.

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