Would We Have Taken Part in the Sins of Our Ancestors?

protestIf you have been tracking with me around here or on social media, it is no secret that I am vehemently opposed to our current president and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state which feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.  I believe that Donald Trump represents a unique threat to everything we are as America and as Americans.  I believe that history will one day look back on this moment and demand of each of us, to know which side we were on.

But before we go any farther down that road, allow me to direct your attention to a piece by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast which appeared around this time last year and which will guide our thinking today, sort of.

In a hilarious and snarky way, Ortberg hits upon one of our most natural human tendencies:  to reflect upon the great struggles and moral crises of history and imagine that, if we had been alive back then, we would have been on the right side of things.

The truth of the matter is that we probably would have done no better than our ancestors in the moral struggles which they faced.  We would probably have been right there with the people who were burning witches in Salem.  We would probably have been contributing in our own way to this grave injustice.

And here is where I have to get gut-level honest with myself:  A huge part of the reason why I now stand with #TheResistance is that it costs me very little to do so.  For the price of a Coke or a six-pack of Bud or a one-night stay at an Airbnb, I can commit an act of political defiance.

But if that state of affairs were to change, I would probably be rethinking things a bit.  If Donald Trump were to start jailing political opponents (could happen–I certainly wouldn’t put it past Steve Bannon or the new attorney general Jeff Sessions), you could probably expect me to start toning things down around here.

Because, like Ortberg, I am the sort of person who places a high value on physical safety and comfort.  If the cost of resisting Donald Trump were to get too high, I would probably bail.  I would like to think that I’m a better person than that.  I would like to think that I would stay and fight for the right no matter what.  But I am not there yet, and I have a long way to go to get there.

You see, despite what I have said here and in earlier posts about being on the right side of history, we really can’t worry about that.  Our job and calling in this age is the same as it is in any age:  to resist the injustice of our present age, whatever form it may take.  We can look to the past for guidance, but it is not our job to fight their battles or to imagine how we would have fared if we had lived in their times.  As soon as we do that, then we are in danger of missing the injustice that is right in front of us every day.

Jesus had some not-too-kind words for the Pharisees of his day, who imagined that they would not have taken part in murdering the prophets of Israel had they lived in the days of the prophets (Matthew 23:29-32).  Their eyes were closed to the injustice that was happening right there in front of them, that they themselves were about to perpetrate against the one who was greater than all the prophets.

So I must fight on.  I must resist.  It is not my job to worry about being on the right side of history, or about if I would have been on the right side of history in the great moral struggles of the past.  It is not your job either.  Our job is to resist the injustice of our present day.

I will not do it perfectly.  Lord knows, if the cost gets to be too great, I may not do it at all.  Like Ortberg, I place a very high priority on my physical safety and comfort and there is probably little if any limit to what I will compromise if these things are at stake.  So I can have no illusions about being a hero or being on the right side of history.

But at the end of the day, there is still a battle to fight.  There are people out there who fear–legitimately–what the future holds for them in a Donald Trump presidency.  These people need to know that they are not alone.  There are people out there who hear the name Christian and for them it is inexorably linked to the Republicans and the KKK and the Neo-Nazis and many other things which are completely opposite the character of Christ.  These people need to know that this Christian does not approve.  These people need to know that when 81 percent of evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic agenda, they do not act in my name.  I may not fight this battle perfectly, but not to fight–that is not an option.


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