I was once in a church meeting after an ugly congregational split, and one of the church members said, “Can we pretend like this never happened?”
The answer is a big no.
I grew up trying to avoid unpleasant stories – especially scary stories that are real. Turns out this is a luxury that we cannot afford if we truly hope to Make America (or our congregations, neighborhoods, families) Great (er).
For example, Oprah Winfrey talked about one of those scary chapters of our nation’s history last night on 60 Minutes and I hope you’ll watch it here.
Thousands of men and women were lynched in this country between 1877 and 1950. Sometimes children were invited to witness these executions. Sometimes preachers invited parishioners to bring a picnic basket for the event.
The lynching of Jesse Washington was witnessed by over 10,000 people who cheered as he was not merely killed, but tortured as he died. Maybe he was guilty of the crimes he was accused of and maybe he wasn’t. But his lynching is a horrible part of American history – an act of terror that was carried out to “warn others” to watch themselves.
We who have power and privilege in this country, we who truly love this country have a duty to face the “unpleasant” stories of our nation’s history, our church’s history, our families’ history. As conversations continue about reparations for the descendants of enslaved people in this country, the least we can do is acknowledge the terrible stories of our past and keep them from happening again.
“Let’s pretend like this never happened” is not an option if we hope to be healthy people. Families often hide abuse and addiction. Churches often cover up misconduct and other shameful actions. And nations are forever broken if we fail to talk about our past disgraces.
Talking about what really happened is essential if we hope to thrive in the future.
Image owned by the NAACP of the lynching of Jesse Washington on May 15, 1916 in front of Waco City Hall, taken by Fred Gildersleeve (1881-1958).