Progress is the American mythical value. Our most cherished belief is that we are improving. It is what we want to hear. Like a patient whose condition is dire, we want to hear the doctor say we are getting better. It is an important part of who we suppose ourselves to be. We will lie to the dying person. Progress, we say, is even a Christin virtue. Many people who read my blog will proudly claim the title “Progressive Christian.” But progress is not a certainty. It is only a possibility. To ignore this fact, is to indulge in mythology and fantasy.
The American Conservative Myth
Social and economic conservatives in America are as likely to fall for this myth as any one. Conservatives opposes “Black Lives Matter” and Critical Race Theory because they want to believe the messages of both are wrong. “We had the Civil Rights Movement.” Move on! Or “we elected a Black President.” Move on! “You can’t call me a racist!” We know the arguments against these claims. But we should remember that Conservatism in America comes from the Liberal Tradition of Western Europe. (Many conservatives balk when I tell them this) Therefore, conservatives see America as progressing.
America is the wealthiest nation in the world. Strict capitalist policy has given rise to major strides in technological advancement. Industrialization overcame the agrarian economy of the South. Therefore, capitalist policies eventually would have freed the slaves without the American Civil War.
The conservative argues America’s social, scientific, and technological progress are found in free market economics and the values of family, the work ethic, and minimal government management. The seed of this progress was planted by America’s founders. Just stick with what works.
The American Prophets
American Christianity tells its’ story using stories from the Hebrew Bible. American history is told in terms of the Exodus from Egypt and the Conquest of Joshua. The New World became a Land of Promise. Salvation is primarily a personal matter. Religion itself is private up to a point.
America has prophets to warn us when we are losing our progress. The Civil Rights movement uses the story of Moses delivering the Israelites. But the words and activism of the clergy involved are more in the tradition of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jonah, and Micah.
Prophets are also found among the tent preachers and evangelists who warn the country of the danger of divine wrath from the dire sins of substance abuse, sexual immorality, abortion, and certain ideological positions. The Antichrist will be a feminist, a globalist, a socialist, a Muslim, a homosexual, and a cheerleader for anti-Americanism. Religious freedom is important while religious tolerance is condemned. Progress is approved but only within certain parameters.
Progress But Not Too Much
What happens we recognize social ills as the fruit of bad roots? We look for solutions that are radical. One cannot go back in time to persuade our ancestors not to begin enslaving Africans. We have to acknowledge that racism did not originate with black slavery. Enslaving black Africans was due to racist assumptions of Europeans. This is where Critical Race Theory and the Black Lives Matter movement are essential. We can’t change the past. Nor can we move on. Yet, the racism that existed prior to slavery continued after the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified.
Opposition to these essentials results in justification for racism in the past and in the present. America’s most recent flirtation with racist authoritarianism is the result of this opposition. Self-justification is the resulting sin of the American Christian Progressive Myth. We claim progress. Yet, we are concerned about the assumptions being questioned. And we fear where the change leads. White progressives have reservations too. These reservations keep white liberal Christians from standing for racial justice, reparations, and police reform.
The Radical American Solution
Stop arguing both sides. Oppose the desire to self-justify. Learn American History that doesn’t have to do with one of the major wars. Read the history of the American Labor movement. Stop being afraid of what might happen.
A fellow student in college was a white South African. It was April 1994. The first free elections in South Africa were taking place. Apartheid was ending. The student (in Biblical studies) sat in class fuming while the rest of us were excited. He said, “Name one African country that is not a hundred years behind!” The answer was simple – South Africa. His fear was the future we were celebrating.
Faith is radical. We do not have faith in what we know is going to happen. It does not take much faith to play it safe. Grace lets go of privilege. But these qualities are required to face up to racist assumptions to make a future that is progressive. We cannot merely identify as progressive.