The State and the Statue | God's World News

The State and the Statue

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    A statue of William Penn stands at Welcome Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (AP/Matt Rourke)
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    After 42 years, Philadelphia’s Welcome Park requires renovation. (AP/Matt Rourke)
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    William Penn was born in London, England, in 1644. (Public Domain)
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    People walk past the statue of William Penn in Welcome Park. (AP/Matt Rourke)
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    Welcome Park visitors can also see a model of William Penn’s Slate Roof house. (AP/Matt Rourke)
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Welcome Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, might live up to its name for visitors. But what about for Pennsylvania’s own founder?

The National Park Service wants to renovate the 42-year-old plaza. The initial plan included a controversial proposal. It suggested removing a statue of William Penn.

The statue is a replica. The real Penn statue sits atop City Hall, about 15 blocks away. But that didn’t prevent a swift backlash when locals learned of the renovation plans.

William Penn was born in London, England, in 1644. At age 22, he joined the Quaker religion. King Charles II granted him a parcel of land in the Americas. In 1682, Penn arrived at the site of present-day Philadelphia. There, he founded the colony of Pennsylvania.

But colonists didn’t occupy that land alone. Native Americans had lived there for thousands of years.

Currently, Welcome Park features a timeline of Penn’s life. Some officials want to shift the focus to Native American history. They also raise concerns about Penn’s legacy. As a colonizer, didn’t he play a role in the destruction of Native culture?

The Park Service claims it presented the renovation plan and their concerns to representatives from several Native American tribes, including the Shawnee Tribe and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. But leaders from those tribes don’t recall such discussions. In fact, they had something different to say about the legacy of William Penn.

“William Penn was an ally of the Shawnee,” says Ben Barnes. He’s the chief of the Shawnee Tribe. “As long as he lived, he kept his promise. As long as he was able to speak on behalf of the colony in western Pennsylvania, the Shawnees had a home there. . . . Of all the terrible human beings that inflicted tragedy upon native peoples, I don’t put William Penn in that category.”

Penn has long stood as a symbol of friendship with native peoples. After his death, native tribes mentioned his name in negotiations. They would remind other colonial leaders of his kindness.

Both Republicans and Democrats spoke out against removing the statue. Republican lawmaker Bryan Cutler called the proposed removal “absurd and revisionist.” Josh Shapiro, Governor of Pennsylvania and a Democrat, urged the Biden administration to keep the statue in its “rightful home.”

God warns us against celebrating evil. (Isaiah 5:20) It’s good to think critically about the historical heroes we honor. But that zeal can quickly go overboard. It’s important to remember the people who kept their promises and sought peace—even if they weren’t perfect.

When backlash arose, the park service withdrew its proposal to remove the statue. For now, Penn stands.

Why? It’s important to remember history even when it isn’t perfect and to respond well—not merely react—to concerns.

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