Thursday, December 29, 2016

Who we and our families are now is more important than where our families came from

During my first trip to Lititz, Pennsylvania, nine years ago with Granddaddy Huber and family, I was so excited to see tangible proof of our ancestry, when I didn’t think any such evidence of any of my families of origin existed. My ancestors hail from a few different European nations and one Native American tribe, and I grew up in a nuclear family with minimal exposure to any relatives going farther back than my parents’ generation, all of whom lived in other states.

I almost cried when Granddaddy showed me the house he was born in almost a century before, and his father’s name on a large memorial plaque in the center of town listing him as burgess (mayor) from 1900 to 1901. In 2013, Dad’s cousin Ginnie presented each of us with a binder she’d compiled of the town’s genealogy through the Lititz Moravian Church, which contained essentially a narrative of our family’s tree there going back to the mid-1700s.

Many people grew up taking this sort of thing for granted. While I don’t want people to try and guilt-trip me for having it, in this day and age, I feel it would be too ignorant and heartless to consider it an entitlement. I treasure it as a gift, not as something that history or America owes me just because I am a mostly-white American born into a Christian family.

Many of my current friends don’t even know for sure what countries their ancestors came from or how long their families have been here. For others, their entire historical record is on another continent because they are the first of their families to come here. And still others’ ancestors were brought here in chains, and have little or no chance of ever finding out what nations or tribes they hailed from, and the best they could do would be a genetic test that identifies a general geographic area their DNA originated from.

That being said, I’m not going to waste my energy resenting and labeling people who do feel that having a tangible record of their lineage is their entitlement and that this somehow makes them more deserving of being American. I like the approach that some contemporary social-justice writers and ethicists, such as David Gushee, take instead.

David Gushee, a Read the Spirit contributor, Christian ethicist, and author of the books Changing our Mind and A Letter to my Anxious Christian Friends, is one of the voices of sanity proposing more constructive and humane ways to get the point across to “white Christians” that the changing religious and ethnic makeup of America does not have to be treated as a threat to them and their values.

In a pre-election article, Gushee is cited as making some excellent points toward “Debunking an imagined past”: Addressing the people whose ideas won the November 2016 election, he points out that their so-called golden era of earlier decades that they want back was only as golden for them as it was oppressive for all others. It’s not that America back then was truly safer and more virtuous—They just chose to ignore and not teach their kids the evidence to the contrary.

“We have all this nostalgia about the Christian values of our past,” Gushee says. “That’s very strong among conservative Christians, but it is usually uninformed by serious reflection on all the evils of American history.” He says that the “white nostalgia for an imaginary Christian past” does not “take seriously the problems of racism” or other forms of institutionalized injustice against anyone outside their privileged majority.

“White Christians” don’t have to suffer and sacrifice something they need in order to allow people of other groups to have more say in how America as a nation evolves into the future.

Let me repeat that David Gushee is Christian, promoting ethics from within the group he’s talking to, not from outside of it. He’s not telling worried Christians to “suck it up, this isn’t your America anymore,” he’s telling them that there is enough America to share, and that we will all benefit by sharing.

This being the case, who we and our families are at present is more important than who our families were in the past.

Image: “Lititz Moravian Church interior” by Karla Joy Huber, 2008; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, colored pencil

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