“We are facing dangers in America. Enemies are being made now that are dividing this country as it has never been divided in its history. We are facing the greatest dangers we have ever faced, and the religious liberals are riding in now on the crest of a wave of what seems to be popular.”*
Sounds familiar, right? It does to me. From blog posts to Facebook statues to sermons, I feel like I’m being bombarded with this idea that we are leaving “the good old days” and about to enter something far more sinister.
Kids used to pray in public schools! Traditional family values prevailed! Men were men and women were women! Children were respectful and everyone went to church and the world was as it should be!
But then it all changed, right? Somehow we Christians didn’t SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE loudly enough and America went off the rails and this new world, this liberal world has arrived.
A few years ago, my grandmother passionately announced that she wouldn’t want to bring a child into the world the way it was. That statement has stuck with me since then, this idea that our present reality could possibly be so degraded that my generation might as well give up, not bring children into this world, because there is no hope for their future.
But then I also remember her calling my mom shortly before I went to Prom with grave concerns about my attending the event with a boy with the last name of “Dominguez.”
And that’s how I know she was wrong.
That’s how I know anybody who looks back fondly at the “good old days” of the 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s, the ones who want to “make America great again!” are misguided. Because I grew up with eight grandparents, and I assure you, I heard every one of them say something jarringly racist at one point or another. Hateful, even.
Their attitudes were a byproduct of the world in which they grew up. The “good” version of the world. The “more Christian” version of the world.
That 1950s world where women made sixty-something cents on the dollar to men for the same year-round, full time work and likely never questioned sexual harassment as a workplace norm.
That 1960s and 1970s world where people of color were dragged to their deaths and churches were burned to the ground by the KKK. Where white kids beat the hell out of black kids as school desegregation was taking place.
That 1980s world where in Stockton, California a man walked into an elementary school and murdered or injured 37 children before taking his own life.
That 1990s world where female military cadets at my own alma mater were being beaten, raped, and brutally hazed because many men didn’t want them to be allowed in “their” organization.
These were not good old days. These were more days full of scary things.
This is and always has been a world full of scary things.
And I think we can make it better. I think in many ways we have made it better.
I can’t stop wondering: why are we romanticizing a time full of as much as or more hate, racism, sexism, and depravity as we have today? And are we going and do this whole thing again in another 50 years?
Someday when people look back at 2016, I’m worried they won’t remember that there were white Christians who were refusing to even consider that simply living a life with darker skin might be more scary, more dangerous than the white one we were living. That we would rather refuse to accept that black lives do matter for fear that we risk allowing anything or anyone to matter more than ourselves.
I am worried that they won’t remember that in 2016 we could tell our daughters that they could be anything they wanted when they grew up, unless what they wanted was to be the senior pastor of most any evangelical church.
I am worried that they won’t remember that in 2016 Christians chose to fight for our own perceived “safety” in public restrooms rather than remember that loving people is supposed to be fundamentally unsafe, we are called to give up our lives for Christ, yet can’t hypothetically pee in the stall next to someone who might have views vastly different than our own.
I’m worried they won’t remember that there wasn’t one woman in 2016 who wasn’t on high-alert walking down a dark alley at night because we were victims first, and we were told that it was probably our fault for being there in the first place.
I’m worried that they won’t remember that we claim to follow a Jesus who gave up His life for us, who loved the marginalized, who trained his apostles to allow themselves to be martyred for his cause, yet we can’t even consider giving up a chicken sandwich and an indignant Facebook status in solidarity with people we may not agree with, even though doing so would be an act of love that could show them who Jesus is.
I am worried that perhaps future generations will think of this time as “the good old days.” Days we should get back to. Days when we loved less and oppressed more but dammit, we got our way.
Or maybe, what I’m really worried about is that all of this will still be a reality, and they won’t need to look back at anything to be horrified; that we’ll decide to keep these “good old days” exactly the way they are.
*The opening quote is from a sermon by American broadcast evangelist Bob Jones Sr. on Easter Sunday, 1960. It was an anti-desegregation sermon.
“God never meant for America to be a melting pot or rub out the line between the nations… When someone goes overthrowing His established order and goes around preaching pious sermons…and talk about rubbing out the line between the races – I say it makes me sick.”