Cyneatha Millsaps is pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Ill. This piece ran in the January issue of The Mennonite magazine. Subscribe today for more full-length features and columns each month.
I am sure for many of you, this last political election season in the United States took a toll on your hearts and minds. It did for me as well, but mostly because of this slogan by President-elect Donald Trump: Make America Great Again.
I struggled with this because, for the life of me, I could not think of a time when the United States was ever great. I have pored through the history of the country, and there is not one time in our history that I can say we were great. I admit there are times when we have been good and have stood together well, but “great” is a stretch.
The United States’ greatness is a relative term. How great this country is or was can only be measured by the individual or people group who experienced that greatness. As an African-American female, I don’t see or feel greatness. So when someone says, “make America great again,” I am forced to look at our past.
So when was America great? What exactly is Donald Trump talking about? When was it great and for whom? And what period in our history are we trying to recreate, because for people of color, especially black people, “again” is a dangerous proposition.
Should we return to the beginning, 1776? Not good for me, could not handle slavery. Maybe1865, when African slaves were emancipated. Not good for me, that promise was quickly stifled, and it took another 100 years before it was even remotely recognized.
Maybe we are talking about the late 1960s and early ’70s, when America was standing together for equality and freedom for everyone. As much as I like the advancements that came out of that period, I don’t want to return. Blacks and brown were still public enemy number one.
So I tell myself, Maybe he is talking aboutthe Reagan Era, when industry and blue-collar jobs were booming and the country experienced a national unemployment rate of 5.7 percent. Maybe he is talking about the Clinton Era, when the United States actually experienced the largest Gross Domestic Product in its history.
Even in recent history, black men and women were still under fire. The prison systems rose to the unspeakable numbers we grapple with today. The black community lost its strong family and community structures, which were replaced with drugs, poor education and massive poverty. See, for me, an African-American, anything this country does again could be detrimental to my people.
When Jesus came and spoke to his people, he said, “I came to fulfill the law.” He came to establish the unrealized Jubilee plan of YHWH: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
The only again I will be comfortable with is the beloved community, one in which God’s original plan for God’s people was established. When the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land, God gave them instructions on how to establish themselves. In those instructions, God planned fora community that provided for everyone. God’s plan provided for families that had fallen on hard times. God’s plan provided for the widow and orphaned. Martin Luther King Jr. talks about this beloved community this way: “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.…It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
I am serious when I say I really want to know what “Make America Great Again” means to those that believe in it. I am inviting anyone who is willing to sit down with me and share their thoughts on why you believe in this slogan (or promise) to come and have coffee with me. I’ll buy. I am willing to listen, as you already know my thoughts.
I really seek an understanding, one in which I can find peace with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are interested in an open dialogue with me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements.
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