Whenever something happens that reflects negatively on someone — or those with whom someone is closely associated — there is usually a quick call to “just move on.”
Well, “moving on” is important — but it has prerequisites. It is never the first or only step.
Buried in the question — “Why can’t we just move on?” — is a desire to conceal something that needs to be surfaced and corrected to avoid repetition in one form or another. (For beginners, see current efforts to keep the actions of the Jan. 6 insurrection from coming to light.)
For Christians, the more urgent two-part question from a long history of getting things wrong should be: What have we learned from this horrific failure to live up to our claims of following Jesus — and what can we do now to avoid excusing or assisting in such harmful attitudes and actions in the future?
A very pertinent example is the urgency and aggressiveness in legislative efforts (with significant white evangelical support) to limit what aspects of American history are taught in public schools.
This fearful approach is a way of saying: Sure, there’s some bad stuff (white) Americans might have done a long time ago, but can’t we just move on?
The most nonsensical idea presented is that somehow teaching children the devastating realities of bigotry and hatred in their own history teaches them to hate others rather than to correct such hatred in their midst.
Generally, by “moving on” one means ignoring (and therefore excusing) the realities of injustice and learning nothing from it. Embedded is the hopeful idea that future generations will not hold those of their stripe accountable for ensuing injustices either.
White Americanized Christians have played major roles in every atrocity of human rights abuse — and there are many — in our nation’s history. Surely that explains the continuous urgency to move on.
Had there been a serious reckoning (like the conviction and repentance that gets so much lip service) among most white Christians about the gross mistreatment of Indigenous Americans, then there would have been enough Jesus-influenced conscience and Spirit-guided discernment among them to adamantly oppose the enslavement of African people.
But there was not. Nothing learned; nothing gained.
Had white Americanized Christians truly repented of and sought to rectify — as much as possible — the evils of slavery, then there would have been a powerful, church-led Reconstruction based on the value and equality of all humanity. There was not.
Church members went from the prayer meeting to the lynching tree with ease. Many worked hard to exclude African Americans from basic equality under the law, including restricting access to education and the ballot box.
Why can’t we just move on? Because: Nothing learned; nothing gained — except what the larger culture corrected.
We can’t move on as long as white Americanized Christians overwhelmingly preach that Jesus is the way to heaven — but then show they don’t believe Jesus is the way to live in relationship with others now.
Lessons learned would have had white professing Christians nationwide driving the civil rights movement— instead of so many working in opposition. Nothing learned; nothing gained.
So, it’s sadly unsurprising that American evangelicals are at the forefront now in seeking to whitewash and suppress American history. The truth is too close to their own history to be comfortable — and too much of a threat to their current efforts to retain power-driven privilege.
They would rather conceal the major roles that white Americanized Christians played in the worst atrocities in our nation’s history than to reckon with them in ways that avoid repetition or shine a light on injustices today.
Researcher Robert P. Jones, author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in America (2020, Simon & Schuster), notes how this is being done so aggressively now in regards to the latest boogieman, Critical Race Theory (CRT).
This academic theory, not well known until recently, is highly demonized by white evangelicals and their political partners as a primary threat to the beloved freedom of American life. It is truly an outsized response with a larger intent.
Jones, steeped in Southern Baptist culture from his Mississippi upbringing, noted in a recent Time article how such fear-based, political aggression is a reaction to “the unmaking of the white Christian worldview.”
Jones’ research through Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reveals how so many “purportedly sober” American Christians have become hysterical over unfounded conspiracies and have given their primary allegiance to amoral political leadership that shows no interest in truth (as factual) or justice and equality.
Why such alarm and a willingness to set aside all Jesus called his followers to be and do? Here’s a short and concise answer:
“The bulwark of white Christian America is crumbling,” writes Jones in Time. “We are no longer, demographically speaking, a white Christian nation.”
Throughout history, most followers of Jesus have known what it was like to live out their faith without cultural dominance.
But white Americanized Christians can’t imagine not having the helping hand of government control — and the power to write or constrain the historical narratives.
They can’t imagine walking faithfully in the footprints of Jesus instead of being able to coerce others to align with what they consider to be true religion.
By portraying the teaching of historical truth as somehow “teaching hate” we discover yet another attempt by white Americanized Christians to cover up their own historical trail of hatred, abuse and discrimination — and a way that does not hold them accountable for the injustices of the past or present.
In doing so, the question of “What is right?” is replaced by, “How can we control the power structure — without regard for what is moral or ethical — to ensure we retain cultural power by disregarding the rights and values of others?”
Nothing learned; nothing gained. That’s why — yet again — we can’t “just move on.”
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.