Don’t leave Edward in the harbour!
The statue of the slave trader, Edward Coulston, has been fished out of Bristol harbour, and is likely to be sited in a museum. I tend to think that will be the best place for the statue – certainly the safest place!
It’s interesting to reflect on how a change of location transforms the way in which an object – in this case a statue – is regarded. As a statue in a public open space it proclaims a set of supposed public values, which now cause offence to many. But as a statue in a museum representing a history now largely discredited, and presumably recognised as such even if qualified by wider considerations, it is fine.
There is a lesson there somewhere. It’s about the importance of self examination, and in some cases confession. We are all standing on the backs of past events which are questionable. Our wealth and our standard of living is built on all sorts of abuses: slavery, alcohol, tobacco, colonialism, unfair trading practices, etc. But that is mainly in the past. Most of us didn’t ourselves engage in these things. At worst, perhaps, we were bystanders. But now we need to try to get things right!
However, we are also all standing on things of which we can be proud: improving living standards across the world, giving opportunities to some of those who lacked them, challenging some aspects of racism, etc. Again, we personally may have contributed little to all these (though some people definitely have).
The significance of all this is not that we should beat ourselves up about these statues, and a flawed past. Rather that we accept that we live in a creaking world which seeks renewal. Good and bad are mixed together. The important thing is to press forward with the things which are GOOD in hope. St Paul put it thus:
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? (Romans 8:22-24)
Plans to remove a structure of Robert Baden-Powell from Poole Quay partly illustrate this. The council said it wanted to "minimise the risk of any public disorder or anti-social behaviour that could arise were the statue to remain in situ".
"Whilst famed for the creation of the Scouts, we also recognise that there are some aspects of Robert Baden-Powell's life that are considered less worthy of commemoration.”
The spokesman was referring to Baden-Powell’s connection with the Nazis.
BUT There are currently over 54 million scouts in the world in almost every nation on earth promoting tolerance and global solidarity. The movement is committed to inclusion and diversity. This is carrying forward the GOOD.
Someone said: "Simply expunging past connections from sight won't correct wrongs or help us better learn from our past." I couldn’t agree more!