Every so often, I hear people say (or I read in print) that they wish we could return to the values of fifty or sixty years ago. On the surface, to many people that may seem like some kind of ideal world. Children were respectful and had manners, families remained intact, faith in God was publicly acknowledged, and moral principles were upheld.
On the other hand, black people went to separate schools and drank from separate water fountains. Women didn’t go to college or compete in the job market. Adopted kids often either didn’t know they weren’t their parents biological children or were introduced as such, implying they were somehow less “real.” Pregnant girls might be sent away to hide, then be manipulated into allowing someone else to making choices for them. People were persecuted for unorthodox political views. Families built fallout shelters and television ads showed children what to do in the event of a bombing (duck and cover, anyone?).
When we wax nostalgic about decades gone by, we fail to admit that we’re still living in ignorance. “We want to return to an era when values were taught!” Translation: We want to pretend that racism, misogyny, and homophobia don’t exist. Brown people are okay, as long as they mix with other brown people and don’t cause us tax burden with their laziness. Women can work outside the home, as long as it isn’t as a preaching pastor and as long as her husband is okay with it and as long as her man doesn’t take her place staying home. And for God’s sake, those gay people ought to just go back in their closets where we don’t have to see or speak to them.
With every form of positive social change comes greater responsibility of the people to see it through. By refusing to admit our own part in racism, we perpetuate it, despite the gains of the last sixty years. By holding women back in the workplace, in ministry, and at home, we foster the very culture women have spent the last fifty years battling. By denying basic rights to the GLBT community, we stubbornly turn our backs on the work of the last forty years.
When will we stop believing that life was idyllic in the past? It reminds me of yet another wonderful quote from CS Lewis. At the end of “The Last Battle,” when the Seven Friends of Narnia are discussing Susan’s defection, he puts in this gem:
“Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”
That is exactly what we’ve done. We’ve decided that 1950s America is the pinnacle of existence. After all, the major wars were over, we had technology to make everyone’s life easier, and these pesky [insert your favorite race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation] people kept to themselves. We could live in our middle-class, white, heterosexual bubbles, enjoying the finest life had to offer.
I don’t want to live in a bubble.
I want messy, complicated craziness, of the kind that only comes from embracing people unlike myself. I want to understand the hardships faced by other people. I want to work together for change, making a safe place for everyone to be exactly the people God intended them to be. I want our churches to be safe havens, unsegregated by any kind of prejudice. I want my kids to know a world where people respect one another, even when we are different.