Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fall of the Mighty Whities Part III: The 150-Year-Journey

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
~ Abraham Lincoln

My brain is churning this week, and my heart is fast in pursuit of understanding, so I warn you, dear readers, this post is lengthy. But I ask you, is it possible to write succinctly about a 150-year-journey?
This weekend we went to see Spielberg’s Lincoln. I highly recommend this film with its stunning, dark images, stellar cast, moving story, historical accuracy, and authentic dialog. I am so intrigued my mind keeps replaying scenes, and I can’t wait to see it again.

The film showed an intimate portrayal of Abraham Lincoln during the specific months that he pushed for passage of the 13th Amendment. His complicated character is shown in his intelligence, his folksiness, his internal struggles, his offbeat humor, his moral sensibility, and his determination.
"Do we choose to be born? Or are we fitted to the times we're born into?" he asks two soldiers in the telegraph office as he is composing a telegram to hold the Confederate delegation hoping to negotiate peace on a riverboat because he fears ending the war too soon will close the window of opportunity to get the amendment bill passed in Congress.
Radical Republican Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens played a big role in helping to pass the 13th Amendment. Wiki says this about him:
He defended and Native Americans, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jews, Chinese, and women. However, the defense of runaway or fugitive slaves gradually began to consume the greatest amount of his time, until the abolition of slavery became his primary political and personal focus. He was actively involved in the Underground Railroad, assisting runaway slaves in getting to Canada. An Underground Railroad site has been discovered under his office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Though Stevens’ relationship with his Quadroon housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton, was revealed only at the end of the film, Wiki states their common law marriage was well known in Washington circles, where many people referred to Lydia as Mrs. Stevens.
In the film Stevens, who climbs into bed beside Lydia and hands her the original passed Amendment bill for her to see and read, suggests that she should come to the signing of the bill. She declines saying it would not be right to have his housekeeper attend such an event. It was a poignant moment in the film for me, a demonstration of the sacrifices we make out of our love for another, particularly when our relationships do not fit social convention.
I knew interracial relationships occurred back then as they always have since people of different races and ethnicities ran into each other (some consensual and some not, but I am speaking only of consensual couples in this case, not situations involving rape, violence, and oppression), and I find it interesting that Spielberg and scriptwriter John Logan chose to portray the relationship as secret. If it were truly known openly, it is proof of how complicated race is in our society, then as now. I imagine Spielberg and Logan viewed the relationship as the inspiration to Stevens’ thirty-year-long fight for the abolition of slavery and for race equality in America.
In one scene the congressmen debated whether passage of the 13th Amendment would open the way to giving blacks the right to vote. One congressman warned the others that soon there would be blacks in congress if they were given the vote, and, worse, women would expect to follow!
The movie couldn’t have been released with better timing, given this past vitriolic election and the continued trashing the Republican conservatives are raining down on President Obama. Maybe Spielberg purposely held the film’s release until after the election.  Could he have been that prescient or was he just waiting for the holiday moviegoers?
Certainly all this talk of secession from the Union now that President Obama has been reelected seems to warrant a history lesson. The seven southern states that seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War were not exercising their rights; they were traitors to the country. Their reliance on states rights to uphold the inhumanity and brutality of slavery was an abomination brought about by greed, power, and privilege. We need to acknowledge our history and not glorify the ugly parts of it.
After the movie, back in the car, my husband Ronald, daughter Mackenzie, and I talked about what we had seen. I came away understanding how important it was to get the 13th Amendment passed before the war ended, even without a plan for race integration (which truly did not occur until 100 years later with the Civil Rights Act of 1964). I also understood why the final argument in favor of passage was for legal equality and not race equality. At first I sided with Stevens who wanted to push forward the concept of race equality. But Lincoln counseled Stevens, in a private debate between the two, about the folly of using one’s moral compass to head true north, when the compass has no way of identifying the pitfalls and traps that lie in the path to stop one from completing the journey. He understood they needed to take one step at a time, and eliminating slavery was the first step. In real life Lincoln said of it, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”
I feel strongly that almost 150 years later, we are still taking steps toward race equality and our journey is not nearly over.
A couple of weeks ago one of the white guys at the golf range handed Ronald a photocopy of a column from his church newsletter. I’ve reprinted most of it below:
Prophetic Prospective
United States citizens, at least those who chose to exercise their franchise to vote this last presidential election, decided to return President Obama to the White House for four more years. This reelection of President Obama has received rave reviews from the European and Middle Eastern political leaders. European leaders who basically embrace the same political philosophy as President Obama see this reelection as an opportunity to advance their political agenda. Arab and Muslim leaders await the Obama administration’s acceptance of the Muslim agenda to move those nations touched by the Arab Spring into the establishment of an Islamic world more in line with Sharia, the Islamic law, as the law of each of their nations.
As Christians, many of us have questions as to how it happened. Mitt Romney lost and Barack Obama won. I am not going to analyze the results, but I do want to remind each of us of the biblical response that we must have as we look into the future…
God instituted human government 4,500 years ago as recorded in Genesis 9:6. God instructs Bible-believing Christians to be obedient to those elected and He reminds all of us that He, God is the One, who puts people in their political positions, Romans 13:1. The Lord reveals in Revelation 17:17 that He will use world leaders to have His will played out in the Last Days. God’s Word also calls for Christians to pray for all those who are in positions of authority – as is our president, Timothy 2:1 – 4.
Let me share several prophetic thoughts with you. Bible prophecy speaks of how the financial structure of this world will be controlled by a world leader, a one world leader, the Antichrist from his headquarters in Babylon, the modern-day state of Iraq…The conflict in the Middle East will also be center stage of the Last Days.
This whole scenario is like reading from prophetic passages of Bible prophecy. Europe and the EU are at least the infrastructure for the revived Roman Empire as foretold in Daniel 2 and 7 when it talks about the ten toes… and the ten horns. An Islamic based government in the 23 Arab states and the Muslim states of the Middle East prepare this region for the future described in Daniel 11, Ezekial 38, and Psalm 83.
God has used human government to fulfill Bible prophecy in the past and He will do so as well in the future. Political leaders will indeed help set the stage for prophetic passages in God’s Word to be fulfilled.
~ A minister from NC
The white guy asked Ronald for a response. Ronald, who knows the Bible better than most Evangelicals, immediately started to parse the column and Biblical references (most of which I left out to save on space and your time, dear readers). Finally the man got frustrated and said, “I didn’t ask you for a sermon!”
“No,” I said to Ronald from my hotel room up in the northeast, as we spoke on the phone, “he didn’t want a sermon. He wanted you to agree with what it said. Doesn’t he get that if he believes God chooses who wins, that God chose Obama?”
Now that I’ve reread it (instead of hearing it over the phone), I see the author is predicting that Obama’s reelection signals the End of Days. Hasn’t every generation thought that certain events were harbingers of the end? The Civil War (and every war) must have made people wonder if the end was near with the loss of over 620,000 soldiers and another 420,000 injured.
Here are a few more letters published this past week in my local paper the Winston-Salem Journal. They, like the article above, also predict the dire consequences of President Obama’s reelection.
Congratulations! Elections certainly do have consequences. Witness the 950 jobs lost from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center – in my opinion, thanks to Obamacare.
Tighten your seatbelts, because our “tyrant and chief” is just getting started.
~ Peter Wilson
Not This Time
It’s over…but I don’t get it. More than 50 percent of the voters picked the candidate who has been the most divisive president in my lifetime, which has been for almost three quarters of a century.
I have always understood why people have picked one candidate over another, but not this time.  I always felt if my candidate lost, so be it. I could live with the opponent for another four years. But the past four years have been nothing but a failure. Of course, a lot of freebies were handed out.
As you can tell by now, my choice was former Gov. Mitt Romney. Here was an honest, decent, intelligent man who felt it was a privilege to help others, yet he was demonized by the opposition and the press, including this paper, with all sorts of falsehoods.
I’m not the smartest guy in town but would someone explain how this happened? Do we go through another four years of bickering and higher unemployment, dividing the country even more? I hope not. We cannot afford more of this and while I hope I am wrong, I see the middle class disappearing. And while I’m not an overly religious man, I wonder if this is a test from God to see if we as a nation can survive.
I love America and I hope the best years of my country are not in the rearview mirror.
~Art Frauenhofer
How very fortunate America would have been to have Mitt Romney as our leader. His is so experienced, so competent and so honest. Instead, we have returned to the hopelessness, ineptness and deceit of the last four years.
My fellow Americans, it will not be all right. We will suffer; our children will suffer; our grandchildren will suffer. And, yea, the Journal will suffer. But, thank God, Sandra Fluke will get free contraceptives.
~Janice Dooley
The consequence they seem to predict is the end of the White reign in America, the day when a black president is accepted not just for the novelty of being the first black president but because the majority of Americans loves, trusts and respects him and his leadership.
Racism played a role in the election campaign but it did not change the outcome. Yet I can only think that there are people out there who are afraid of the demise of white privilege just as there were people 150 years ago who feared the consequences of freeing the slaves.
I see it quite differently, though. Maybe more like Thaddeus Stevens, I see what America can be after this hard fought election: inclusive, diverse, and celebratory of how this country was built by the contributions of many races, ethnicities, and cultures. I envision a new America that honors equality and fairness, in word and in action. No one is asking for “free gifts” as Romney accused Obama of rewarding to a majority of voters. We just want race and gender equality. That’s not a free gift; it is morally and ethically the right thing to do.
But I have the feeling that a good many white people don’t feel that way, and they are hoping and praying God will intervene and give them back the entitlement and privilege they don’t openly acknowledge. Yet they fight for it and accuse others of wanting it.
One of the white guys at the golf range told Ronald he doesn’t think everyone should be able to vote. He believes that an elite group, unnamed but probably white and wealthy, should be the only Americans eligible to elect our country’s leaders. Ronald wondered, as he related the story to me, if the white guy included himself in the elite group. No doubt.
Lincoln also said, "Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."
Maybe Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, or the white guys at the golf range would be willing to walk in the shoes of the 47% for a week. I don’t think they would last an hour. So why are they trying to determine our destiny?
Another white guy at the golf range told Ronald a couple of months ago that, all things being equal, the wealthy would still be wealthy and the poor would still be poor. In other words, wealthy people are smarter, more able, and more motivated than poor people who, he said, are too lazy to change their circumstances.
I believe the days of elitism and race advantage are coming to an end.
I’m disappointed that people are using the Bible to spread hatred and bias and that they are unabashed about mixing church and state. It was true in Lincoln’s era, too.  The Bible was used to justify slavery and unequal, brutal treatment under the law and to predict the dire consequences of ending the social order. Such predictions and prophecies render us spiritually, morally, and ethically bankrupt.
Are people afraid of the new multiethnic America? Yes. I know they are. But haven’t we been moving away from Euro-centric culture (many Americans seem opposed to European socialism; I wonder how they define their whiteness) since the first Pilgrims landed on America’s shores, since America opened its arms to immigrants (the Native Americans being the first to allow strangers on their shores)? Haven’t we always had different cultures mixing to create a culture that is singularly and uniquely American? What are we afraid of?
I wrote the following comment on Facebook and attached the political cartoon below it:
When people hate so much they want to secede from the country they claim to love, we need to invite them to the table so we can offer them the chance to talk about it and to show them we love the country as much as they do and we don't plan on going anywhere. I know, they haven't offered that to us, but I think the high road is the better route, even if it takes a little longer.

Lincoln took the high road, even as he questioned his own methods and the power of his office. The country, with the Southern States once again part of the Union, took the high road and enacted the 13th Amendment. As Lincoln counseled Stevens in the film about the virtue of using one’s moral compass to head true north, we have to walk in that direction, but avoid what the compass cannot foretell, the pitfalls and traps that may stand in front of us. Let’s relocate our country’s moral compass, find true north, take the high road, and, avoiding that which can stop us in our tracks, complete the journey to race equality. 

No comments:

Post a Comment