What Are You O.K. With?

One thing I appreciated about the candidacy of Roy Moore, who ran for one of Alabama’s U.S. Senate seats and narrowly lost yesterday, is that it brought bigotry into the open. Mr. Moore thinks we’d be better off if we did away with all the amendments to the U.S. Constitution after the 10th amendment (i.e., do away with all except the Bill of Rights). Those amendments that Mr. Moore would ditch include ones that abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote. These comments weren’t merely a slip of the tongue on the part of Mr. Moore; they were entirely consistent with other comments he’s made over the years and during the campaign. Clearly, Mr. Moore would feel more comfortable living in pre-Civil War Alabama. Regardless of what I think about his views, I’m glad Mr. Moore shared so openly.

Of course, they’re not only his views. Of the 1,334,397 people who voted in Alabama yesterday, 650,436 (48.4 percent) voted for Mr. Moore. They thought he was O.K.; they wanted him to represent them in Congress. They not only thought his views were O.K., but also thought his character was acceptable. Mind you, in this 30s, Mr. Moore preyed on teenage girls. Yet he was only 0.75 percentage points away from winning a seat in Congress.

I’m glad for this particular election because it helps us recognize that such views are out there. Often, they’re kept undercover for fear of social ostracism. But they’ve been coming out in the open more lately, in part due to people like Mr. Moore and President Trump. But these men didn’t create the ideas; they’re merely legitimizing them and emboldening those who hold them.

It’s easy for those of us who have a comfortable middle-class life to dismiss or ignore the threats to equality and justice. It’s tempting to think those ideas have been discredited and the battle for justice and equality is over. But it isn’t. In fact, it will never be over.

Some people find support for such views in holy books, principally, the Christian Bible and the Koran. Others find it in tradition. Others find it in a longing for a highly structured society that would yield its principal economic benefits to them and “their kind of people.”

Regardless of motivation, these ideas are a force to be reckoned with. If left unchallenged, they will ascend in power once again. And whether they ascend or not, they are stronger today than most of us privileged white, urban people recognize or care to admit. Much work remains, that is, if equality and justice are guiding principles in your life.

The questions each of us answers, either overtly or passively through inaction, are:

  • Should a person’s future be defined, in whole or in part, by their sex, skin color or ancestry?
  • What are we O.K. with?

You may think the answer to the first question is obvious. You just have to remember that there are others who think the answer is obvious, too, but their answer is different from yours.

History tells us that humanity wasn’t given a playbook to follow. We create the rules for the society we envision and think is best for our particular situation and the values we embrace. It always comes down to, Who is writing the rules?

Quite a few Americans wanted to bestow Mr. Moore with the power to write rules. The question is, Are the rest of us O.K. with that? And, if not, what are we going to do about it?

The Confederacy Is Dying

Lately, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot about the Confederacy, white supremacists and Civil War heroes. Growing up, the Civil War didn’t have a prominent place in our lives. Sure, we visited the Gettysburg Battlefield and learned about the war in school. But it was an historical artifact of sorts — something that occurred but had long past.

And then I moved to Virginia. It was there I experienced first hand that the war wasn’t over — at least not in certain people’s minds. It also was there I frequently heard it referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.” And saw the flag of the Confederacy fly from porches and pickup trucks. It was there that some people called me a Yankee, with the disdain the term implies in the Deep South.

More recently, just over the mountain from where we lived in Virginia, white supremacists marched and engaged in violence to promote their cause. Some people interpret this as a sign the principles underlying the Confederacy are alive and well.

I disagree. I think it’s a sign of the Confederacy’s dying gasp.

Racism will live on, of course. But the Confederacy was about so much more. It was about preserving an economic and social system rooted in slavery. That clock isn’t about to be turned back.

That’s not to say there isn’t involuntary servitude today. There is. And even among the free, true freedom isn’t as pervasive as commonly thought.

It also isn’t to say there is equal opportunity for all. There isn’t. But it’s getting better.

It is to say that what we’re witnessing now — with the white marches and election of Donald Trump — is the last gasp of a dying power structure. The days of racists, white men are coming to an end.

The country is changing. It’s getting less white. And it’s getting less male — not in general; rather, in the halls of power.

Moreover, the distance between the War (whatever name you want to ascribe to it) and the present is increasing with each and every passing day. There is no one alive who lived then, and no one alive whose parent fought in the War. Our national memory is fading.

Economic mobility has hastened the fade. Yankees now live throughout the South, and Rebs are dispersed throughout the North. The terms themselves now seem absurd to the vast majority of Americans (I always thought they were).

Some people hate to see our country change. They fight to keep women at home and out of our board rooms, legislatures and executive officers. They go out of their way to avoid people of color. They bestow privilege on the old white families that shower their institutions with money (i.e., their character is for sale).

But most people don’t. Most people have come to believe it’s wrong to judge and treat people based on their sex or the color of their skin.

We don’t always live up to our beliefs, but with time our beliefs strengthen and help narrow the gap between rhetoric and action. With time, we’re learning how to be better people.

The War has been over for more than a century and a half. Now, we’re witnessing the end of the Confederacy and the blossoming of the principle of freedom and justice for all.

The War is over indeed. But the fight continues.

Justice Isn’t Free

Today, three people lost their lives in or near Charlottesville, Virginia, in connection with a white supremacists’ rally.

Since the beginning of our country, many of our citizens have believed in the superiority of whites and the inferiority of people of color. Indeed, today’s violence occurred near the site of one of our country’s preeminent universities, the University of Virginia, which was founded by a racist, Thomas Jefferson.

Today I have heard politicians react. Our president had what may have been his worst day in office. He ridicules many people. But today he declined to speak out strongly against white supremacists and Nazis.

I also heard a United Church of Christ pastor interviewed on television. He was eloquent and spoke clearly with a strong moral voice. He reminded us all that justice isn’t the default position, but that it comes slowly and only after much hard work and sacrifice. He reminded us that justice isn’t free. People who earnestly seek to follow Jesus and the Gospel understand that well.

Today is a reminder of the choice each of us must make. We can choose to stand with the oppressed or the oppressor.

We can choose to believe that all people are equal or they’re not.

We can choose to subjugate or liberate.

People have given their lives for both causes.

Nothing is free in life. But some things are worth the price.