I call for a moratorium on white evangelicals talking about the “good ole days” when the United States was a godly nation. Why? Because it never was. Sure, there were times when on particular issues our nation has reflected certain biblical values better than at other times, but our nation has always been a nation of sinners who have been guilty of grievous sins. Let me be candid, it is easy for white evangelicals to romanticize the past because by and large the previous eras in American history were not marked by injustices to our ancestors. Of course, during every era we have had faithful men of God standing up and preaching the truth, and that’s exactly what we need today. However, when we idealize a particular era while glossing over its sins, we lose our credibility to proclaim the Word of God. Our authority must always be Scripture and not culture, not even 1950s culture.
If you’re looking for the godly era in American history, where will you find it? Not in the 1600s, when those who came for their own religious liberty refused that liberty to others by persecuting any who dared to dissent. Not in 1776, when those who declared all men to be created equal refused to treat blacks equally. Not in 1861-1865, when we fought a Civil War over whether states had a right to secede from the Union to preserve racial slavery as an institution. Not in the 1950s when racism was prevalent and institutionalized and many who sang “Jesus loves all the little children…red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight” verbally and physically assaulted those who had a different color of skin. Not in 1973, when in the name of privacy and personal freedom mothers were given the right to murder their unborn children. Not in 2015, when evidence abounds that deep-seated racism still flourishes in certain quarters of American life. There is no golden age in American history. There are only eras where certain sins are tolerated, endorsed, and institutionalized. The golden age of American history is a myth.
In what I’m proposing, I don’t want in any way to denigrate an entire group of people. Certainly, not all white Christians engaged in or supported the societal sins cited above. In fact, there are heroic examples of white Christians standing beside their black brothers and sisters to speak the truth to power. I also don’t want to discount the tremendous strides in human flourishing brought about by white evangelicals, particularly here in America. There is much to celebrate and remember fondly in our history, but we have to acknowledge the darker side of our past as well. Our past and present is a mixed-bag of both good and evil. We cannot accept one while ignoring the other. To put it more forcefully, we cannot praise the good, without condemning the evil.
We need to realize that whenever we talk about those bygone eras nostalgically, eras in which the ancestors of our black brothers and sisters were enslaved, beaten, hanged, and otherwise mistreated, we are communicating that we would rather go back to the days when white Christians were more respected and coddled, even if that means our black brothers and sisters would be subjugated and mistreated. I trust that most who use this language don’t mean this, but multiple conversations with my black friends indicate that this is exactly what they hear when such language is used.
If the above is not what we are trying to communicate, let’s find a better way to say what we mean that doesn’t communicate such an offensive message. Instead of talking about “Taking Back America” or “Reclaiming Our Culture,” let’s talk about calling all people in all cultures to repentance for their sins. If we do this honestly, we will not only renounce the sins of our day, we will also forthrightly acknowledge and condemn the sins of our white Christian ancestors.