We Praise Our Past Heroes – Once It’s Safe to Do So

We Praise Our Past Heroes – Once It’s Safe to Do So April 5, 2018

Yesterday was the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and everyone came out to praise him. Imprisoned, beaten, reviled, and finally shot down in his lifetime, King now enjoys almost universal regard in the public sphere. Even those who tut-tut at “Black Lives Matter” and make murmuring noises about “thugs” say admiring things about the great civil rights martyr of the previous century. It would seem as though his sacrifice was not in vain.

But other stories came out, too. People who remember those days remember how hated King had been, especially in white Christian evangelical circles. Some remember that while they mourned the death of this hero, others rejoiced.

When I hear stories like this, I have to ask myself: where would I have stood, then?

At the time, Dr. King and the civil rights leaders were kicking against the traces, making people uncomfortable. Siding with them was not the “respectable” thing to do – even if it is now.

Similarly, I ask myself whether I would have stood with the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, one hundred years ago. Nearly everyone professes to admire them now. But what about then? Would I have marched with them, fought with them – or would I have called them “unnatural” and “unwomanly”? Would I have protected my tiny little space I had managed to wrest from the men, not by enlarging it to share with other women, but by reviling them, and giving obeisance to the patriarchy in return for the scraps from the master’s table?

I was reminded of this today, in a conversation about the problem of white supremacism in pro-life circles. When a former pro-life spokesperson was revealed, recently, as having gone full-on Alt Right, her associate did the right thing: publicly repudiated her views. Those of us who fall into the demographics considered undesirable by white supremacists were relieved to see this.

But not everyone approved. There was the usual tone policing. We shouldn’t be “attacking” this person. We should be able to respect people, in spite of their differing views. The usual.

With all this rising anti-Semitism, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own heroes, who stood up to the Nazi regime. Of course, we all love to imagine that we would have joined the Resistance then – but would we have? How willing are we to resist racism, violence, and fascism today? It’s easy enough to be heroic, in an armchair, in a historic retrospective.

I have to wonder what Sophie Scholl’s neighbors had to say about her. Was she viewed as a rabble-rouser, and advised to watch her tone when speaking about “nice” people? Did they tell her she needed to learn to “agree to disagree”?

The past two years in America have been weird. Suddenly, people who used to advocate “tough love” for sexual sinners have jumped on the mercy train, when it comes to open racists. People who have quite cheerily gone about telling LGBTQ+ persons that they’re destined for hell are now advising us not to judge those who support and enable literal Nazis.

When I decided to be a serious Christian, I knew that meant taking up the cross of the Gospel – which means embracing non-violence.  It means I must forgive, as I hope to be forgiven.  But it doesn’t mean being relativistic about evil, and suddenly developing nuance over moral issues that aren’t nuanced at all.

Racism is evil. Anti-semitism is evil. Fascism is evil. There is no excuse for making common cause with groups that advance these ideologies.

I want to close with this quotation from one of the leaflets distributed by Sophie Scholl’s “White Rose Resistance Movement” – to remind us of the passionate fervor with which our past heroes stood up against the powers of evil, even when people apparently were tired of hearing about it:

But our present “state” is the dictatorship of evil. “Oh, we’ve known that for a long time,” I hear you object, “and it isn’t necessary to bring that to our attention again.” But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right – or rather, your moral duty – to eliminate this system? But if a man no longer can summon the strength to demand his right, then it is absolutely certain that he will perish. We would deserve to be dispersed through the earth like dust before the wind if we do not muster our powers at this late hour and finally find the courage which up to now we have lacked. Do not hide your cowardice behind a cloak of expediency, for with every new day that you hesitate, failing to oppose this offspring of Hell, your guilt, as in a parabolic curve, grows higher and higher.

image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Geschwister_Scholl_stamp,_GDR,_1961.jpg

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