I must preface this writing by stating that I love these United States of America. I do not envy the job that any of our leaders have upon them at the moment. Some have stated in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA that we should remember that we are Americans first. I must state that first and foremost I am a follower of Jesus. Although I fail miserably, my desire is that my faith leads me in all matters. My remarks here come as I reflect on my faith journey and where I believe following Jesus has led me. I know some will disagree; even other followers of Jesus will not share the same sentiments as me. I certainly do not claim some moral superiority; I’m simply sharing where my prayers, convictions, and my heart have guided my conscience these past few days. My question is, “How can we be great when we can’t even be good…?”
There have been times in this nation when we have done great things. Perhaps we could even compare ourselves to other nations and make the claim that this “Great Experiment” has founded the greatest nation ever. These United States have produced some of the greatest minds, the best food, the most powerful leaders, and some awesome music. We boast the strongest military, incredible landscape, and a current resurgence in our economy.
Our current president campaigned and continues to tout the slogan “Make America Great Again!” I wrestle with what exactly that means and I’m guessing that different individuals would have their own notions of what a “Great America” looks like. For some, the slogan may simply be a reminder of the “Mayberry” times of the 60’s. A “Great America” may be the bee-bop era of the 50’s or the hippie movement, or whatever nostalgic period one picks as their favorite. I’m sure others believe that a “Great America” has to do with economic growth, military power, and our position and reputation on the world stage. When asked, many state the commonly held position that America was founded on Christian beliefs and a “Great America” has prayer in school, ‘conservative’ values, and traditional families. I’m quite certain that what may be great for one would not be seen as great by another.
My concern is have we ever (at least from a faith perspective) been great? If, in fact, the country was founded on Christian principles why does our history speak to something much less? I’m not sure we’ve ever even been good. Our history speaks to the oppression of Native Americans, persons of color, and women. There are times when we’ve chosen military might over more peaceful options. We feel the need to take a ‘pro-life’ stand and yet we favor capital punishment, see healthcare as a privilege, and homeless adults and children die on our streets every day. Diversity seems to be viewed as a sin, much more so than hatred, bigotry, and racism. I’m no history scholar but these are not new issues.
Perhaps a “Great America” would be one where persons don’t have to organize a protest to voice concerns of equality. Oppressive systems would be a thing of the past. Incarceration would not be seen as a money making opportunity and the judicial system would handle cases indiscriminately. The poorest communities would be privy to the same educational opportunities as any affluent neighborhood. Healthcare and pharmaceuticals would not be a benefit of the wealthy or privileged but everyone would have access to healthcare and needed treatment. Big money lobbyist would not control the government but the government would truly be ‘for the people.’ The income disparity would lessen and CEO’s and shareholders wouldn’t get mega bonuses while their employees barely make a living wage. Folks perhaps could stop seeing others as too sensitive and realize the insensitivity in themselves. The color of one’s skin would not be a factor in the job market, in the courtroom, or in the street.
Obviously the list could just go on and on. The fact is the “greatness” I picture requires sacrifice. It would take hard work to ever achieve and lots of folks would have to give up some of their comfort, resources, time, and energy. The point again to consider is what do we think will make us great? I believe our nation will ultimately be judged on how we took care of the poor, the weak, the most vulnerable among us and what we did to help alleviate poverty, hunger, and other forms of oppression, not just in our own borders but throughout the world. I suppose some would say the America I envision sounds like Utopia…. I think it sounds “Great.”