When I was a child, my parents showed me The King and I (the 1956 film). I remember when the main character, Anna, starting teaching some children of Siam about geography, the students started to cry foul. Surely, as they had gleaned from their temple education, Siam is the largest nation and the center of the world.
I’m glad I’m self-aware about my country, I thought to myself. But I wasn’t.
My childhood education was a mix of Christian and public schools in dominantly white and Republican counties in the Midwest. I was taught that the Civil War was mostly about states’ rights v. federal authority. I was taught about great people like Harriett Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr., and I was a passionate believer in integration and equality. I wasn’t told about what the other side of inequality looked like for the past century and a half.
I also wasn’t taught about Black Wall Street. I wasn’t told about the sins against Native Americans beyond the Trail of Tears. The internment of Asian-Americans during World War II was barely mentioned in my schools. Also unmentioned was Russia’s integral role in the defeat of the Nazis, and the fact that very few African-American soldiers returning from the war got the G.I. bill in thanks for their service. It wasn’t until after graduate school that I had any idea what redlining or gerrymandering were.
Suffice to say, there are many blemishes in our country’s un-romanticized history. And at least some attempts by some influencers to bring such truths to light are met with vitriol and accusations of anti-patriotism or even ungodliness. Christians, if we are really putting God first (before country), we cannot deny our own sins or the sins of our Christian forefathers.
But what if one claims to come from an ancestry that never created or remotely helped perpetuate such unjust systems and culture? Well, as conservative columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, Michael Gerson, said, “There is an important moral distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility.” It is not useful, and perhaps not fair, to say that most White people are guilty of creating social systems shaped by white supremacy. But they do have a responsibility as citizens, and as moral creatures, to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.”
It’s a responsibility that comes with the freedom we cherish. May we not have the type of complacency that got Samson’s hair cut, kept King David home from a war to sin, led Solomon to recklessly marry, or got Peter embarrassingly (but rightfully) rebuked by Paul, among many biblical examples.
The truth is that the United States of America, through the outline of its approach to government (at least on paper, how one interprets the phrase “all men”), has a beautiful vision that can result in much cultural flourishing. The problem is, however, that it’s been corrupted from its conception. No system of government alone can achieve peace and justice for its communities. It requires faithfulness and selfless efforts from its citizens. This responsibility is a joyous and always-present opportunity, not an unnecessary burden to begrudge.
So, this weekend, let’s celebrate, with national self-awareness, our freedom as well as our responsibility.
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