Saturday, January 24, 2009

Prophecy Is Fulfilled

This past week, America celebrated the inauguration of a new President. It celebrated the coming of the new, the ushering in of a complete change in our political direction. Most important, it celebrated the arrival of our first African-American President. That our President is who he is, is a sign. A very conservative member of our Church told Lisa on Tuesday, after her morning Bible study sat and watched the swearing in and listened to his inaugural address, "Well, prophecy is fulfilled today. Forty years ago, Martin Luther King said he had a dream, and today it is fulfilled."

Last night, we were treated to dinner with two couples from church. We could not help but speak of the events of the past week. I could not tell you what their politics were, and I honestly do not care, but one thing one gentleman said struck me. He spoke of how moved he was, watching the events on television, as the camera panned around the crowd, and how it looked like the world. Indeed. Black and white faces cheek by jowl, crying and cheering our new President. That was all of us represented out there, America as it really is - all sorts of different faces and colors and creeds all together celebrating the arrival of Barack Obama.

Now, I don't believe that Obama's election means our days of institutionalized racism are now, officially, behind us. It is a tremendous leap forward, a marker we should celebrate. His reception by a grateful nation is indicative, I think, that most realize how important not just his policies will be, but how important he is not only as an individual, but as an American of African descent. I couldn't help but think, as I watched Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts bungle the oath, of another Chief Justice, Roger Taney. Taney wrote the infamous Dred Scot v Sanford decision, which upheld the Fugitive Slave Act. In his opinion, Taney roamed far beyond the question of the constitutionality of the law itself, and asserted that "a black man has no rights a white man" needs to honor or respect in any way. Taney asserted that even free blacks were not citizens; being black of skin was enough to disqualify one from being American. This was indeed the law of the land until the post-Civil War constitutional amendments overturned Dred Scot, providing citizenship to all former slaves.

I was recently accused of believing that, because of the stain of American racism, I think American history is far worse than that of any other country. On the contrary. I think our history is remarkable. I also think it is remarkably horrible in certain instances. My question to the person who made this accusation was simple - to what other country's history am I as an American answerable? We have made giant steps this week, and I believe that, in a very large measure, King's vision has been redeemed. In that vast crowd, and in homes and churches, libraries and even theaters that broadcast the inauguration, people came together to celebrate America as it is, in all our glorious differences.

As we move forward in the ensuing weeks and months, I think it will be important to remember that Barack Obama's elevation to the Presidency has given America something for which we should all be proud. We now understand, in a very deep way, that difference is just that. We are, all of us, in King's words, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, joined together in this journey of being America.

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