Which Side Are You On?
March 18th, 2012
No photos today. Just one of my rants. You’ve been warned.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
It’s hard for us to realize, nearly 250 years after Thomas Jefferson wrote those words, just how radical a statement that was at the time. That was the age of the divine right of kings. Those were words that could get you executed in much of the world. Those words were the beginning of theUnited States of Americabecoming the beacon of freedom to the world. Those words represent the ideas that made this a great nation. Those words make me proud to be an American.
But theUnited Statesis a human institution and from the beginning it has had the flaws that are a part of every human creation. We have always struggled with the truth of those words in the Declaration of Independence. We started out as a nation where slavery was legally recognized. Of course, from the start there were those inAmericawho saw that slavery was wrong and worked to end it. It took nearly a century and a horrible civil war, but eventually slavery was ended and we moved closer to being the nation we set out to be.
The struggle wasn’t over, of course. There always seem to be people who want to claim their superiority over others…to repress and discriminate against groups of people for no good reason…for the color of their skin or the place they were born…and, fortunately, there always seem to be another group of people who see how wrong that is and work to end it. That has been the story of our country…and it still is.
Women were excluded from the definition of equal in that original document. The subservient role of women was so ingrained that it’s doubtful thatJeffersonever considered that his language excluded them. It took us even longer to fix that flaw, but eventually we did.
And the struggle goes on. We’ve gone from a nation with enslaved blacks to a nation with a black president. Women, once considered the property of their husbands, are now equal to men in law, if not yet in fact in the world of work. We had to have the civil rights movement and the suffrage movement to get to where we are, but we have always moved in the right direction, toward the goal expressed in that original document so long ago.
Why is it such a struggle? Because there are two sides to the struggle. We always have a force that doesn’t want everyone to be equal. There is always a side that is against progress, against freedom, against equality. They have been with us from the beginning and they are with us today. But they are the losing side. They are the wrong side.
Sometimes the wrong side gains temporary victories and the world suffers. That’s what happened inGermanyin the 1930s leading to World War II and the concentration camps and attempted genocide. The struggle is important. We can never relax and let evil win, even if only for a short time. The cost is far too great.
How could anyone be in favor of slavery? How could a position like that be justified. Why, with quotes from the Bible, of course. And with arguments about the economic consequences of freeing the slaves. And, of course, with arguments based on bigotry.
And, surprise, the same basic arguments were used against the equal treatment of women under the law. The Bible says women are not equal to men, even blames them for all that is wrong in the world. And what will happen to our society if women don’t stay home and cook and clean and care for children? And besides, women are too delicate to be involved in politics and work outside the home. Always the arguments against equality are the same bigoted lies, just adjusted to the current group to be oppressed.
So, what’s this all about? Well, while those battles continue even after the major victories, there’s another battle for equality going on right now. I’m talking about the fight for equal rights for couples in same sex relationships. I’m talking about equality for people regardless of their sexual orientation. The time has finally come for this nation to move forward and end another kind of legal discrimination.
The arguments against this next move toward the society we set out to be are the same old arguments that were used to defend slavery, justify killing millions of Jews and against giving women the right to vote. Those arguments are wrong, as they always have been.
I confess that I have a very hard time understanding how people can be against equality. I suppose it is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of not having anyone they can feel superior to. Fear of the “other.”
But I certainly know which side is right. I know which side is moral. I know which side wins, always, in the end. I know which side Jesus would be on if he were here today. If you don’t think that’s true, read the Sermon on the Mount and get back to me. And I know which side Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius and the other great wise men/prophets/leaders of the past would chose. The good and the wise and the kind are always on the side of progress toward greater freedom and equality.
How do we feel today about George Wallace standing in the doorway or Lester Mattox brandishing his axe handle to stop black students from entering a school? How do we feel about those who murdered Freedom Riders? Do any of us think that bombing a church and killing innocent young girls was the right thing to do? The day is coming when we will look in the same way at those standing in the way of equality for all regardless of sexual orientation.
Equality, freedom, respect, consideration, love…those are the path to the future. That is what this great nation is about. That is what makes us great. That is what makes us an example to the world.
It’s time for us to take the next step toward what we ought to be. It’s time to end another form of discrimination, another way that a group of people have been kept from equality. It will happen. It is inevitable because it is right.
Which side are you on?