A South Carolina lawmaker sent out a Christmas card featuring a photo of the Confederate flag that was removed this year from the Statehouse to his Republican colleagues, suggesting they use the holiday to "ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal."

Rep. Chris Corley said the card was a political statement to his fellow Republicans meant as a joke in his smart-aleck style. Democrats and others on his Christmas card list will get one with a picture of his children.

"If somebody's feelings are legitimately hurt about that Christmas card, I think that might speak more to their conscience than the content of the card," the Republican from Graniteville said.

Lawmakers voted in July to remove the Confederate flag that had flown on the Capitol grounds for 50 years in response to the fatal shooting of nine black parishioners in a Charleston church. The suspect in the shooting was seen in photos posing with the rebel banner.

Proponents of removing the flag said it had become a symbol of a brutally oppressive past for African-Americans.

But Corley and other flag supporters said the banner also stands for pride in Southern ancestors who fought to protect their homes and land in the Civil War. They thought the Legislature acted too quickly by coming back into a special session instead of waiting until they returned in January.

During the House debate, Corley suggested an amendment replacing the Confederate flag with the white flag of surrender and held up a piece of paper taped to a pencil to illustrate his point. This week, he filed a bill calling for a popular vote during the general election in 2016 on whether to return the Confederate flag to a pole in front of the Statehouse.

Corley's holiday card starts with: "May your Christmas be filled with memories of a happier time when South Carolina's leaders possessed morals, convictions and the principles to stand for what is right."

It ends with: "May you have a blessed and happy Christmas, and may you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal."

Corley said the card, which was first reported by The Post and Courier, is meant to criticize only Republicans and their leadership. House Speaker Jay Lucas declined comment Thursday.

Corley said Democrats should be praised for how they handled the issue.

"It was excellent politics on their part," Corley said. "They did exactly what their constituents sent them to Columbia to do. They got to go home and say, 'Look at how hapless and helpless these Republicans are.'"

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said Republican leaders need to address Corley's comments or else run the risk of people thinking they agree with him.

"I am waiting for the Republican Party to condemn his Christmas card and the statements in the card and distance themselves from him," said Rutherford, D-Columbia. "Everyone has a right to their belief. But he's a Republican, and either he speaks for them or he doesn't."