Pastors in South Carolina have taken sides in a debate over removing the Confederate flag from atop the statehouse dome.

Republican Gov. David Beasley in November began to push for a legislative compromise to move the flag, an offensive symbol to many African Americans, from the capitol—where it has flown since 1962—to a Confederate memorial on the statehouse lawn. Beasley, an evangelical, said his decision came after prayer and Bible reading.

Clergy reacted quickly to the governor's surprise move. Calling on South Carolinians to address the flag controversy "first and foremost as a spiritual matter," nearly 200 ministers, black and white, rallied behind Beasley in December. In January, more than 700 ministers of the Baptist Education and Missionary Convention of South Carolina, the state's largest black Baptist organization, called for the flag's removal.

But an interdenominational coalition of pastors released a document, "The Moral Defense of the Confederate Flag." The group argues that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of racism, and that the Civil War had less to do with defending slavery than the desire of Southerners to "resist the federal government's unconstitutional efforts to subjugate sovereign states." Bobby Eubanks, pastor of Ridge Baptist Church in Summerville, criticized the plan to bring down the flag and for relying on a "shallow Promise Keepers'-style theology" of racial reconciliation.

In January, the Republican-dominated South Carolina House voted 72 to 15 to reject Beasley's idea. However, lawmakers agreed to a statewide referendum in November, pending Senate approval.

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