In the Lectionary

December 12, Advent 3C (Luke 3:7-18)

The first step of repentance is telling the truth about ourselves.

I live in the United States of America, a modern-day empire that has gained riches at the expense of others. Here is an abbreviated litany of our greedy and deadly forays: We had a penchant for squatting on and stealing Native American land and then exterminating Native American peoples because they became a problem to get rid of when they refused to cede their land and assimilate. The North and the South alike can trace much of their wealth to chattel slavery and the commercial industries surrounding it. Warring with Mexico paved the way for us to continue our westward expansion.

Even after the Civil War, our country did not learn its lessons. The United States abolished slavery and gave African American men voting rights. But by 1877, we’d had our fill of Reconstruction and began to renege on its promises. Some historians say that African Americans only really gained their freedom—the freedom they were granted in 1865—with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet even now we are rolling back voting rights.        

If we turn our gaze to how our nation treated other non-Whites, we see our sordid history of exploiting workers and then deporting or imprisoning them. Think of the Chinese we recruited to come build the railroads and then summarily barred from entering our country from 1882 to 1943. In 1917 we passed an immigration law that barred people in much of Asia from entering the United States. We did not want southern and Eastern Europeans coming in either, so a literary test was added to the new law.