Creation Stories (Part 2): America
One of the problems raised by the Trump creation story I wrote about last time is that America already has a creation story of its own. It begins in Boston Harbor in 1630, when John Winthrop counseled his parishioners to build “a city upon a hill.” His was an exclusive vision, his community included only the Puritan elect, but over the course of our history that vision expanded in response to an increasingly diverse America.
In 1776 the founders who gathered in Philadelphia looked out on a world that would have been unrecognizable to Winthrop and tried to incorporate it into their Declaration. But the result encompassed only a small minority of Americans – white, male, property owners – and in the ensuing years our story has incorporated many who were left out: the Civil War ended slavery; the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, celebrated a nation of immigrants; the 19th amendment gave women the vote; the march on Washington demanded the inclusion of people of color.
Gradually, intermittently, we have expanded our creation story. For many it has been irritatingly slow, a path so filled with roadblocks, brutal setbacks, and bloody reversals – Jim Crow, Wounded Knee, Homestead, Selma – as to make our commitment to equality seem clothed in hypocrisy.
It’s true that our constitution makes fundamental change difficult. That’s because those who wrote it valued stability as much or more than change. As frustrating as that can be, it is the reason for the endurance of the document and the republic, and I like to think it’s what Dr. King meant when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Our history has proved it does not naturally bend that way. It requires vigilance and courage in the face of powerful opposition and alternative stories, and that, too, is part of America’s still-unfolding creation story.