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Friday, October 23, 2009

United States is Unrepentant

United States is Unrepentant

It can be very difficult to face the truth. It is also very difficult, once one has faced the truth, to let that “new reality” transform their lives. I am very grateful for mentors who have challenged me to “face the truth” and then allow it to “transform” my life. While the process is on-going I am grateful to be a different than I was and different from what I will be.
With this in mind I was taken on the journey of racial reconciliation about 16 years ago. There is still so much to learn and so much I don’t understand about other people groups. Yet, I know and understand far more than I did 16 years ago. I am so grateful for that knowledge and understanding and hope it is only a foundation to be built upon in however many years I am allowed to breathe on this earth. It is incredible to know that we are all made in the image of God. Yet, the power of God is demonstrated in the fantastic diversity that marks the human race. Diversity that God created, and God uses to demonstrate His love, grace, and mercy.
Today marked one of those “bench mark” days, an Ebenezer, in my life. I had an experience that affected me deeply and reminded me, at the core of my soul, why I am working in racial reconciliation and cross-cultural ministry. It reminded me of how far transformation can take us and how short of His plan we fall when we ignore our past. It reminds me that transformation is for the purpose(in part) of making us more Christ-like so that others may seek out Christ.
Today I experienced, in a very visceral way, the sorrow and grief which is often the first step in facing the truth. Today I faced the depth of my nation’s sin in regard to slavery and its consistent support of not just discrimination, but full on perpetuation of evil through oppression to our African-American ancestors as well as our First Nations ancestors.
Don’t misunderstand, I’ve known and grieved slavery and our treatment of First Nations’ People. I’ve repented for the past sins of my own ancestors. But my visit to the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio was life-changing.
I have visited the Holocaust museum in Los Angeles. It was a powerful experience and served as a deep reminder to the consequences of unchecked sin. I was saddened and even disgusted with humanity’s propensity toward hate. The fact that it was perpetuated by an insane, megalomaniac gave me some relief (maybe a bit perverse). After all, this was the work of a profound communicator who capitalized and manipulated a nation’s insecurities by casting a vision of utopia through purity of ethnicity. Yes, he swayed others to join his evil, but it wasn’t built systemically. It was a different kind of atrocity. Not the kind of atrocity my own country has accomplished.
The issues behind my country’s enslavement and slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Africans, the systematic breakup of African family units, the denial of citizenship (Dred Scott case) and later, after emancipation, the backroom dealings which brought about Pres. Hayes into office and then removed federal troops so southern states could make their own rules about racial issues under the auspices of giving the south “free-rule”, and bringing the effectual end to “reconstruction” in the south, cause me a deeper sorrow than I could imagine.
What brings about this sorrow and grief in my soul is that my country, using its Constitution, the Supreme Court, legislation, and backroom dealings “legitimized” horrible atrocities and oppression. This was not the work of an insane dictator with cultish building abilities. This was decided and agreed upon to be brought into LAW by what we would define as “rational” men!
Rational, thinking, some would even say Christian men, decided that not only were slaves not worthy of full personhood (for taxation purposes they were established as a literal fraction of personhood), they had no rights to citizenship even if they were free. The Compromise of 1877, under Pres. Hayes, would then allow that they would have no protection from the singularly focused racism of the south.
It was during this time that the government’s efforts to expand its territory, inhabit it, led it to legitimize its oppression, lying, thievery, and genocide of the First Nations’ people. My country turned its pursuit of monetary gain against the existing people of the land. As with slavery, this was calculated, systematic, ruthless, and thoroughly evil.
Again, as with slavery, these decisions and actions were not produced or imposed by an “insane” dictator. It was administered by men of “stature” and “respectability.” Their decisions were thought to be thoroughly rational and these were men who had complete belief in the democratic process. They also thoroughly believed that there were people in the land who shouldn’t be allowed into the democratic process.
It is for these reasons I found myself weeping and then grieving in my visit to the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati. The harsh reality of the depth of evil my country has perpetrated on Africans and First Nations’ people strikes me to the core.
Is it any wonder why my country won’t apply pressure to Turkey to admit its genocidal reign against Armenians? We aren’t willing to admit our own governmental “ancestors’” sins against people it brought to this land and against the people who first inhabited it. We, the people of the United States, our government which is by the people and for the people, by not admitting to these sins against humanity we are also party to it! We are directly responsible for the sins of our Fathers’ when we don’t renounce, repent, and reconcile those issues of sin.
It is not enough to say “we don’t do this now” or, “I never participated in that activity.” What is necessary is to fully disclose the violation of a people and express sincere regret for our nation’s treatment of these two groups of people. Doing so, and this is of first importance, validates the humanity of the descendants and their ancestors who were dehumanized for centuries. This is the greatest act of love a group of people can do for another, appreciate their dignity while admitting our inhuman behavior. This type of life is commanded in the Christian faith through the greatest commandments.
Secondly, this would create a legitimate foundation by which genuine community and unity could be sought. Humility in wrong-doing creates an environment where trust can be built. Authentic admission of wrongs, even when generational, have the power to draw people together because where there is trust, there is also a sense of safety. When there is a sense of safety, the people who have been wronged (even through generational issues) are willing to build on the sincere gesture of repentance.
From a spiritual, Christian perspective, this is how community is built, preserved, and strengthened. It cannot be accomplished by ignoring past wrongs or, maybe worse, by trying to distance ourselves from those wrongs. In attempting to distance we inadvertently communicate that the atrocities simply weren’t important. At the core, distancing dehumanizes the descendants of those who were harmed. Distancing from, instead of embracing, the faults of our ancestors always creates the thought that the harm could occur again. Maybe the atrocities wouldn’t be to the same extreme, maybe not in the same overt manner, but in subtle ways which reinforce the “formerly” oppressed group’s fears and distrust of the dominant culture.
I strongly believe, through my understanding of biblical forgiveness and repentance, our government needs to pass a resolution that admits to the atrocities, oppression and theft as it pertains to African-Americans and First Nations’ people. I fully realize that it would probably be most effective if driven through the leadership of a white president, but I also believe that if significant white leaders in the business and political realms brought this forward it would be received appropriately by the groups most adversely affected by my nation’s systematic, deliberate sin. The sin of treating others, created in the image of God, as less than human. It could, quite literally, change the course of history for America. It could truly render us the “United” States of America.
May the God of all people by glorified……….

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