By AATTP Guest Contributor, Rob Ellsworth
We often hear historians speak of “America’s” great injustices toward women, gays, immigrants, people of different faiths, Native Americans, African Americans, and Japanese Americans. But it is important to note that “America” herself is not responsible for these actions.
“We the People” were and are responsible and “We the People” have not always collectively lived up to America’s promise.
Our Declaration of Independence put our inalienable rights on paper. The Constitution restricts the federal government’s authority to take them away.
While our Founders failed to address slavery in fear of our young country’s stability, and while they denied women the same rights as men, they created a system of government making future generations capable of fixing their own shortfalls. Our Founders clearly didn’t get everything right, but for today’s purposes, they thankfully and explicitly did not cherry-pick Biblical passages favorable to the day’s argument and try to apply them to public law. Their Declaration to King George and a candid world, Federalist Papers and subsequent Constitution made that clear.
Majorities of Americans at various stages of our young country made the decision to look the other way during the Trail of Tears, slavery, and fight for civil rights for African Americans, women, and gay people due to difficulty, fear, ignorance, and (ignorance’s close business associate) hatred.
Many held and still hold the Bible before them as a justification against equality. After all, “Biblical Law” (not the Constitution) was their basis against interracial marriage and against blacks and women serving in the military. Their fight today against equality for gay people is no different.
As an American and a Christian who’s spent a decent amount of time studying Jesus’ life and teachings and a career analyzing the words of our Founding Fathers, this is off the charts frustrating. But I must say, it is intellectually curious and amusing to hear large swaths of our fellow citizens condemn many of their own neighbors and family members to an eternity in the fiery pits of Hell while qualifying theirs is “not a position of hate.”
If this is their example of “loving all of God’s children” and “doing unto others as they would have others do unto them” then I don’t want to see them hate. Their position and posture are purposely selective, intellectually dishonest, and hypocritical in ways inconsistent with virtually all faiths. Faith teaches us that our lives are a journey in constant search of truth, but we never achieve absolute truth on Earth. Please fear anyone who does.
So we should all stop using “America” as a scapegoat for these tragedies. Let’s differentiate between “America” the great idea we raise our Flag to honor and “Americans” the people, the real work-in-progress.
Our favorite pastime in this country isn’t baseball, it’s looking back at our debates one or two generations later and realizing how stupid we looked.
What we do know is that America guarantees none of us our desired outcomes. That’s the whole point. What we get is equal access to a process. It’s painfully slow and awkward, but our trend has always been toward openness, kindness, thoughtfulness and equal protection under the law.
Being an American does not give us immunity from ignorance and hatred, nor does it abdicate our responsibility to form a more perfect union.
While we cannot control America’s history, as Americans, we can control her future.
Rob Ellsworth is a Washington DC-based consultant.