Yesterday in a press conference, the President invoked George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when he was defending the “good people” who were part of the AltRight/KKK/White Supremacist march in Charlottesville, as if the fact that the Founding Fathers owned slaves was somehow justification for the current, blatantly racist actions of the angry men who are trying to Make America White Again.
This line of faulty logic — that our forefathers’ actions set an acceptable precedent for ours — leads us down a perilous path.
The fact that the Founding Fathers owned slaves is a reality that often gets overshadowed — if not completely ignored — in our history books because twisted theology was used to make them modern-day Moses’ who led a struggling, oppressed colony to independence and freedom. Twisted theology made them gifted-but-misguided Davids, who, in spite of their failings, were men “after God’s heart” who were fulfilling “God’s will” for America.
That whitewashed, fallacious, dismissive way of thinking is downright dangerous.
Just because they were charismatic leaders doesn’t mean what they did was right.
Just because they held high offices doesn’t mean they were except from Jesus’ teachings about compassion and love.
Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. Lee led the South in a fight to keep their slaves. Just because they did doesn’t mean they should have.
The amount of power they held doesn’t negate their moral failings.
The ends don’t always justify the means.
When I practiced medicine in rural West Africa, I had many women come to the clinic who were covered from head to toe with burkas, gloves and socks. I had to get permission from their male relative for the woman to undress in the exam room. “If I can’t see her, I can’t help her,” I said, over and over again. “If I can’t see her, I can’t help her.”
I feel the same way about our country right now. If we can’t see America for who she really is and where she’s diseased and wounded, we can’t help her.
It’s time to strip away the trappings that prevent us from seeing the truth. It’s time to stop repeating buzzwords and cliches. It’s time for us to surrender the false narratives we’ve repeated for so long, they’ve started to feel true. It’s time for us to own our past so we can create a better future. It’s time to speak the truth — painful and shameful and dark as it may be.
It’s time we learned from our nation’s past so we aren’t doomed to a future of repeating the same damaging actions, of remaking same damning mistakes.
Here’s the naked truth:
The founding fathers treated people with yellow, brown or black skin as less-than-human, going so far as to hire scientists to “prove” that black people were technically animals.
The founding fathers incited violence.
The founding fathers had affairs and mistresses. They fathered children by their slaves. They contracted sexually-transmitted diseases. In some cases, they weren’t founding fathers so much as deadbeat dads.
Our forefathers annihilated Native Americans — under the guise of a “God-given” right to overtake the land. They called it Manifest Destiny, but the reality is that when they slaughtered and displaced an entire nation of innocent Natives, our forefathers’ souls weren’t Manifest Destined. They were Manifest Doomed.
These men whipped, starved, raped and hung their slaves.
They did this while showing up for church every week, smiling in their shiny Sunday suits. While invoking the blessings of God. While citing Bible verses to bolster their cruel, immoral, racist hearts.
The fact that the founding fathers owned slaves doesn’t justify the AltRight’s conquest to Make America White Again any more than the founding fathers’ mistresses justify marital unfaithfulness.
Acknowledging the truth about the people who founded our country is descriptive — it’s not prescriptive. Their sins don’t justify or condone ours. Their misguided theology doesn’t necessitate that ours be misguided, too.
We don’t have to use their faulty compass to find our nation’s way forward.
It’s time for us to choose a different way, to take steps to walk in a new direction.
We need to see the truth.
Then speak the truth.
Then own the truth.
Then lament the darkness in our forefathers’ hearts and in ours.
Then fall to our knees in dust and ashes, repenting of the lies we’ve created or believed or perpetuated.
But we don’t stay face-down in the dirt. We don’t sink in the quicksand of past sins. We don’t wallow in what we can’t undo, change or control.
We wash our faces. We purify our hands. We cleanse our hearts. We renew our minds. We make our wrongs right by paying full restitution.
And from those ashes of honesty and repentance, we begin to rise. Together — with no one excluded and everyone embraced — we rise.
Instead of wandering farther into the darkness, we turn toward the Light.
We recognize that True North is Love — and if we follow any other way, we’ll get lost, straying farther an farther from Home.
We refuse to twist Scripture to justify the racism, misogyny, oppression, selfishness, anger and hate that contort the human heart.
We acknowledge the dark description that is our nation’s past — and we let Love be the prescription that heals us, inspires us, and sets us free.