By Stewart Burns
When historians look back upon the waning years of the 20th century,
they will likely be struck by two defining characteristics of the
American public: a marked polarization between the haves and the
have-nots, the well-educated and the poorly educated; and a powerful,
diffuse yearning for moral and spiritual renewal. Technological change,
global competition, corporate conglomeration and downsizing, and a
depressed public sector have cleaved a social divide that is wider,
arguably, than ever before in U.S. history.
How are Americans responding to the nations bipolar disorder, rising
impoverishment juxtaposed with unbridled money-making?
Not by sitdown strikes, campus takeovers or mass
civil disobedience, but rather by an outpouring of religious evangelism
and crusades for atonement and reconciliation. On the surface these
phenomena seem to have little to do with racial or economic strife. In
fact, the United States has a unique history of dealing with crises of
division through moral crusades of one kind or another. The Million Man
March, the Promise Keepers, the Million Woman March and other current
expressions of mass atonement and civic healing are carrying forward a
tradition that climaxed in the Civil War and again in the Second
Reconstruction of the 1950s and 1960s. What is animating the emerging
populist movement of atonement? How is it tied to the nations past?
Where might it lead as we head into the millennium?
Early on, African Americans condemned slavery,
calling upon whites to repent in the face of a just, wrathful God.
Beware Americans! wrote Othello, a free Maryland black, in a white
periodical in 1788. (Black writers used pseudonyms for protection.)
Consider the difference between the mild effulgence of approving
Providence, enjoyed in the American Revolution, and the angry
countenance of incensed divinity. Forty years later, Boston black
abolitionist David Walker published a fiery pamphlet: Americans, unless
you speedily alter your course, he cried out, you and your Country are
gone!!!!!! Your DESTRUCTION is at hand, and will be speedily consummated
unless you REPENT.