Monday, June 11, 2018

Who is responsible for America's past?

An American Family Bible was intended by its author to offer some insight into the answer(s) to that question. Throughout the history of the United States, however, various people have answered that question differently.

At times, a kind of consensus has even emerged about this topic. In this connection, it is interesting to note that these popular notions have often focused on Divine responsibility. Early settlers believed that God was directing them to America to give them a new "Promised Land" or that He intended for them to build His kingdom in the wilderness. In the Nineteenth Century, many folks believed in a concept called Manifest Destiny - that it was God's intention that America extend from "sea to shining sea." In more recent years, many Americans have regarded both our origins and subsequent history as being guided/directed by the Divine hand.

Unfortunately, many Americans have taken this to an extreme and regard all efforts to talk about past mistakes, problems, sins and atrocities as almost sacrilegious. They point to the Old Testament and proclaim that genocide and conquest can't be regarded as sins if they were ordered or directed by God!

And, if they do acknowledge these sins and mistakes, they point to the people of past generations as the culprits/perpetrators. "I didn't do it, they did it!" they proclaim. This brings to mind something Jesus Christ is reported to have said on one occasion: "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.' But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?" (Matthew 23:29-33, New Living Translation)

An American Family Bible demonstrates that our ancestors participated in America's story. As a consequence, they share the responsibility for the glories and the sins. The truth is that Washington, Adams, Franklin and Jefferson had help in founding this nation. And, if we say that they were Divine instruments, we must also acknowledge that they were very flawed individuals (they were the same degree of human as you and me). Washington and Jefferson were exceptional men, but they also owned large numbers of their fellow humans and forced them to toil on their behalf.

In my book, I recount the story of my visit to Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The sign erected by the U.S. Government to memorialize what happened there referred to a "battle." The natives who lived on the surrounding reservation had marked through that word and scribbled in "massacre." For some, irrespective of the facts of what actually happened there, the correct term is contingent on whether or not you believe God was directing events toward some greater end.

Those who are acquainted with the Judeo-Christian Scriptures will recognize this phenomenon. The Bible is full of examples of folks who used God to justify their activities. Nevertheless, even those of us who may not be as familiar with that book's contents should be able to discern the folly in using the Almighty to justify covetousness, greed, stealing and murder. We should all be able to learn the lesson of the story of Sarah and Abraham - that God doesn't need our assistance in bringing His plans to fruition!

I hope that the readers of An American Family Bible will see more of themselves and their ancestors in America's story and be less likely to attribute responsibility to God for what they and their ancestors should be willing to shoulder. And, hopefully, if we can begin to acknowledge our personal responsibility for (and involvement in) this story, maybe we can begin to correct some of these past mistakes. For, when we can acknowledge our culpability/involvement in this story, we can see that the problems we face are our responsibility to correct (and I'm sure that God would be willing to help us with that).

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