America has a false national narrative.
In the Southern California schools I attended in the 1990s we were taught these foundational concept:
- America as the melting pot (to describe our diversity)
- The ‘Cult of Domesticity’ (to describe our past male dominance)
- Manifest destiny (to describe America’s expansion)
The melting pot concept that America came from many different nations and often in harmony ignores the white racial history within the United States. It ignores the racism between whites, the term Anglo-Saxon and the white race riots of major eastern cities.
The cult of domesticity is a way to look backwards at the male dominant culture norms of prior generations and manifest destiny a sort of soft serve view of American expansion and its treatment of native peoples.
There was a far amount of ‘papering over’ that still upholds cultural norms today.
Some themes you’ll hear today:
- The land of freedom
- The land of opportunity
- America is great because America is good
- Make America Great Again
All of these themes have to assume a sort of innocent past, or if you need a more intellectualized version of this you have to say something like America has had many challenges but we’ve always strived toward imperfect freedom and when you look at America compared to other nations, who also committed heinous acts against various society members, America looks much more mild and reasonable. Sure we have some slip ups, but if you want to see real horrors look to other nations.
The great counterpoint to American innocence is the actual history of the Black Church in America (if you want to learn more consider this PBS resource from Henry Louis Gates Jr.)
If you study that history at any length you will see how notions of European migration and its relative innocence and benignness quickly become forgettable.
One can look at a nation’s past without glorifying in its sins or celebrating its supposed innocence. In fact, a sober view of power and its ends should be an essential part of Christian formation for any Christian of any culture at any time in history. Jesus makes plain the powers and their ends; their opposition to the dignity of every person made in his image, their opposition to justice and their predilection to self-serving, pleasure, and comfort.
His solution: the church, God’s people. Waiting on change, being just themselves, orienting toward hope and being a sign-post for the ultimate rescue; the destruction of sin and salvation of the whole world. A sort of cautious yet bold sign-post for another way of organizing power and life.
To look at a nation’s past clearly is not socialism; it’s a form of realism.
To point for greater and more just outcomes is not communism; it’s a form of social democracy.
To say that a nation’s past is not the intention of God for the world is to simply say that unbounded self-flattery is a high form of deception and that truly more just and free societies can not become so on the backs of other peoples.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not a form of harassment, it is a secular attempt to make more just human behavior, behavior which does not easily or quickly self-reform. DEI does not solve human nature or account for the repentance and turning that people need to transform their inner-selves but it does provide for fairer and clearer rules of the road for handling difference.
No one can mandate inner change, but finding better ways to work together is something we should all be in favor of; even while Christians and Christianity offer more thoughts about how people can relate well together both within the body of Christ and with the wider world.
Christianity suffers from a kind of inner duality brought about in its Western forms where spiritual change is relegated to an inner thought, feeling, or experience and divorced from ones every day circumstances. Pushing back against this isolation of the spiritual to certain realms is surely the task of Christians today.
Part of that task is realizing how to look at the current moment without fear, but anchored and grounded in true personal, familial, and social transformation. A change that is only brought about through the help of the Holy Spirit where our inner realities square up with our outer obligations and where perfect love casts out the fear of what happens when we are made my whole.
When we are rooted and planted in the rock, Jesus.