Speaker of the House Philip Gunn dropped a political bomb this week in response to questions regarding Mississippi's State Flag. The Republican from Clinton said, "We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."

For many, discussion of the Mississippi Flag quickly devolves into arguments over history, conventions, state sovereignty, and the economic politics of antebellum America. That's all fine for academics. But for many Mississippians, their own state flag and symbol of their government is an image associated with fear and oppression. You can't debate away fear.

We should not attempt (nor would we succeed at) creating a society free from offense. But what we as individuals do to offend each other is a different matter than what the state does to offend its citizens.

Looking back at my columns before and after the 2001 flag referendum, I recall I was truly an undecided voter. I was leaning toward the new flag option (despite finding the design unappealing) but ultimately decided to vote for the 1894 Flag.

My final thought at the time was we were told the 1894 Flag was offensive and a symbol of racism. If you agreed, you would vote for the new flag design; if you disagreed you would vote for the 1894 Flag. But, voting for the new flag meant casting an affirmative vote to enact legislation that would, among other things, make that hate filled banner "honored, protected and flown wherever historical flags are flown." It didn't make sense, I reasoned, to honor a racist flag and if it isn't racist, why not keep it?

My columns on the flag issue at the time were analytical. I expressed leaning toward voting for the new alternative, but my head kept telling me to vote for 1894 Flag. Reading those columns now, they seem an exercise in mental gymnastics.

I wrote in one column about the 1894 Flag, "This is the flag that drooped in the courtroom each time Byron De La Beckwith walked free in 1964.

This is also the flag that stood there proudly as he was found guilty thirty years later...this is the flag that demonstrates the growth and redemption of the Magnolia State. This flag represents the vision of those who sacrificed their lives and property to achieve equal treatment before the law.

While the flag flew over them in seeming opposition, they struggled for the right to vote, to prosper, and even to share a restaurant with people who looked different. And after the strife, they looked up and that flag still flew. But a flag is a symbol of the present more than the past. And now the flag flew not as a sign of opposition, but as a symbol of their victory and achievement. They did overcome."

So you see, black people, you should love the Flag because it represents your triumph - all of our triumph - for equality.

Really? I might also present a lecture to the First Baptist Church on the literary merits of a gay erotic novel. Or discuss the public relations struggles of Wal-Mart at a mom and pop store.

It is rather futile tell to people how they should emotionally feel about something. I'm supposed to tell black Mississippians that once I present an intellectual argument about the flag they're supposed to change how they feel? Hearts don't work that way.

As the wise old troll Grand Pabbie says in Disney's Frozen, "The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded."

Relationships change hearts. The Gospel changes hearts.

And it is also futile to tell people who support the Mississippi flag that they ought to change how they feel. I worked pretty hard to convince myself to vote for the old flag. After all, the liberals, the media elite, the academics and those who feed on racial politics were all telling me I ought to vote for the new flag. Did I really want to line up with them?

Mississippians voted overwhelming to keep the 1894 Flag in 2001. Should we revisit that decision? As one of the people who voted for the current flag and who has changed my own perspective, I think it is a discussion worth having.

If fellow Mississippians feel - with good reason - our State Flag represents state sponsored oppression based on race, I think we make an easy change to a historic alternative and put the issue behind us. If fellow Mississippians feel - with good reason - our State Flag is fine as it is and doesn't need to be changed, I'm certainly not going to question their hearts or motivations.



Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.