A couple of weeks after the US election, a number of US citizens working in the Church of Scotland were asked to contribute an essay to the Church of Scotland magazine called Life and Work. The topic was about "healing America" after such a divisive election.
The essays ended up having to be significantly edited for length, but we were told we could publish full original essays here if we wished. The magazine was published this week...and after the events of this week in Washington DC and a number of US state houses, it seems like time.
This guest post is by Julia Cato, who is a graduate probationer, seeking a call to ordained ministry in the CofS.
“How do you think it will go?” a friend asked a week before the 2020 U.S. General Elections. “I have no idea” was my honest reply. I sighed with what I realised was almost defeat. I already had the sense that no matter how the elections would go, no one would come away a winner. There was too much divisiveness and too much harm done. Now, a few weeks on, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s win feels more like a reprieve than a victory.
I attended a DoDDS (Department of Defense Dependents Schools) primary school on a U.S. Air Force Base in Germany. I remember every morning we would stand to sing either “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” or “America the Beautiful”. Then, with our hands on our hearts, we would recite in unison, “The Pledge of Allegiance” to the U.S. flag hanging in the corner of the classroom. Every single day of every school year.
I remember my German mother’s quiet discomfort with this morning ritual of school children pledging their allegiance to a flag. It would be years before I would learn how a flag can mean different things to different people. And even more time would pass before I would begin to understand how national histories haunt us until we make reparations for our sins.
I can still recite “The Pledge of Allegiance” by heart. Not only did we pledge allegiance to the flag, but also “to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all (emphasis mine).” The Very Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas writes, “On the one hand is the democratic vision that America is founded upon, with freedom and justice for all. On the other is the actual foundation of America, with its embedded ideology and practice of white supremacy. These two sides are at war with one another.”
The 2020 US General Elections are about more than just Biden versus Trump, they are about who we are as Americans and who we want to be. Come 20 January 2021, the 46th President of the United States will have to lead a country greatly divided. While many will be celebrating the new administration with its first woman of colour vice-president, millions will not. If there is to be true and lasting change, the new President and his administration will have to push forward in new ways, not falling back on institutionalised patterns.
“Liberty and justice for all” must embrace God’s justice moving us toward a freedom and wholeness in which we all can see one another as equals. As Christians, we must articulate and model God’s justice from our pulpits, from within our prayer groups and bible studies, from within our homes, and from within ourselves. There cannot be unity among the people of the United States of America where there is not justice for all.
A deeper understanding of reconciliation and healing is necessary, and this will require a reckoning with the injustices committed, not just over the last four years, but throughout our nation’s entire history. My hope for the next four years is that we Americans will take advantage of this reprieve and begin a healing which can only unfold by effectively rooting out white supremacy embedded in our systems and structures, and perhaps most significantly for white Americans, within ourselves.
- Graduate Probationer, Julia A. Cato