“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.” - Matthew 23:29-31 (The Message)
“Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.” These words from Crosby, Stills & Nash in their 1969 song Judy Blue Eyes speak to some of us today. So, the Confederate monuments come tumbling down. All across the South reminders of our inglorious past, mostly constructed more than 40 years after the conclusion of the Civil War, heralded the onset of Jim Crow. These were our ancestors; both the ones being honored and the ones responsible for the fabrication and erection of said memorials. But can we, many decades and generations later, wash our hands of the memory of the oppression and degradation perpetrated on others, which those celebrated, privileged ancestors sought to prolong? Is it enough for us to try to unremember them and their deeds? Have we really turned it all around these days, enough to be satisfied that we have done all we could within our generation? Are we that different from our great, great grandparents? If our ancestry originates north of the Mason-Dixon Line, are we therefore exonerated and cleared of all responsibility for what the past dictates to us now? Are we Southerners now acquitted of the persistent inequities remaining in our society by proclaiming we are not letting “the past remind us of what we are not now”? Might there be significant remnants of the past that still are now? Sometimes in my comfort-seeking denial of my complicity, I feel like a self-righteous ostrich sticking his head in the sand. What would Jesus say?
I cannot with certainty know exactly what our Lord would say in 2023, but we do have scripture that informs us of what he was thinking and proclaiming two millennia ago. “And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth…” The biological DNA of our ancestors inhabits every cell of our body. Have we also inherited their sociopolitical DNA? And from whence cometh our spiritual heredity that calls us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God”? Injustice assumes many forms, some obvious and some subtle. It evolves over time. Will we denyingly mimic the attitudes of our forefathers and foremothers, or is God calling us to something different?
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. -The Book of Common Prayer