I am usually not much of a fan for nostalgia. Looking backward through rose colored glasses at how good it used to be while ignoring all the negatives of that time does not strike me as particularly worthwhile. On this occasion, I make an exception because the cultural shift between 2015 and 2016 has been truly disorienting and disheartening for me. My periodic columns are in large part my effort to make sense of the shift that came with the 2016 election and to claim my own sense of alarm and integrity as a person immersed in Bible Belt faith. Whether successful or not, my goal is to do this without being so dogmatic that I alienate folks rather than offering to open communication lines.
One way I have thought about my personal reaction is that I have gotten a reality check. Some important things I assumed about my country slapped me in the face with their unreliability. I was simply unprepared for the reservoir of meanness unveiled since the election of 2016. Horrific revelations from the MeToo Movement exposing the widespread sexual abuse in our society were indirectly connected with the presidential election. More directly connected was the rise of white nationalism and its ugly cousin, the fear-mongering about almost anyone who is “not like us.” I had not envisioned either of these to be the America I know — but they are.
As I continue to reel from those and other revelations, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand my own world. I have thought about my privilege and prejudices and have reminded myself to dampen my frequent angry responses. Even more I have tried to understand how good people could interpret the world so very differently than I and so very differently than I had come to believe was the unquestioned norm.
In being so frequently reminded of the meanness strangling our country, I have also been powerfully reminded of the deep gratitude we all owe to those who confront the meanness most directly. We are blessed to have protectors-police, fire fighters, first responders, military — who put themselves in danger so that the rest of us may be safe. I can grasp only glimpses of what they must experience, but I know that their service and their courage are irreplaceable gifts to our society.
This grateful recognition of courage and service offers no free pass to those who dishonor themselves, their comrades, and the public by abusing their power and the public trust. Those given power over life and death and those whose authority opens the door to predatory sexual assault must be held accountable. Sadly enough, a part of our cultural turmoil is a result of calling out abuse while still seeking to support the integrity of the majority who honor their oath of service.
Countless thoughtful efforts have been made to grasp the ways that social media styles of communication have driven us apart — and perhaps an equal number of distorted propaganda pieces have been offered to assure that we are divided. Tragically, our political leaders and leader wannabes too often want to make a name for themselves by fanning the very divisiveness. Especially disturbing is the common, casual resort to bare-faced lies accompanied by denial. A political campaign that thrived on accusations about the opponent’s lies then became notorious for perpetual lies. Words and actions that encourage violence and prejudice are no less inflammatory and bigoted because they are denied and given different names. Prejudice is still prejudice even when it is disfigured as a call to protect religious liberty.
Though my literal language is obviously English, my conceptual language is “Christian.” Being raised in a conservative Baptist church, I was taught that a situation ethic is never acceptable. Only the dreaded secular humanist would be bold enough to promote any practice that the end justifies the means. It is from this perspective that I have been totally baffled and disheartened at the mind-boggling pivots in evangelical Christianity. Repeatedly I have heard some form of “our president ‘delivers’ the agenda for the Christian right.” The right gets judges they like to fight their culture wars so they blithely tolerate his other behavior. However supporters may choose to understand their dilemmas and their responses, others of us hear flimsy excuses and tortured rationalizations. For those not already in the Christian right club, the brand is profoundly damaged.
I am a citizen in a country that proclaims high ideals about liberty and about equality for all. There is some validity to the complaints made by those who decry what they see as too much focus on the short comings. From my perspective, it would be far easier to come together on the positive achievements of American life were it not for the determined blindness by those who would sweep the negatives under the rug. Cultural change is unnerving and most threatens the privileged and the fearful. However, change is constant — it will not stop no matter how fiercely resisted. The challenge is to be wise enough, creative enough and courageous enough to learn from the past but move boldly into the future.
E Pluribus Unum is stamped on our coins; translated From Many, One. Love God and love your neighbor. Of course, that’s Bible talk. Should we choose to seriously pursue these two noble challenges, we can move away from the mistrust and hostility that threatens both our nation and the practice of our faith. How might that happen? Let’s talk.