Every four to eight years our constitutional democracy gives way to a re-birthing of our nation through the peaceful transition of power from one presidential administration to the next. The election of Donald Trump has sent many in our country into a deep, dismal state of disappointment, depression, and despair. In the early days of the aftermath, the election has many wondering whether the hounds of hell have demolished the hope, courage, and love that characterized much of the current administration. Fear, deception, and hatred (the hounds of hell) appear to have a fresh scent on the footsteps of the disinherited, the discouraged, and the disempowered, but perhaps not on the disenfranchised.
In a population of over 320 million, 127 million Americans exercised their right to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice. The president-elect lost the popular vote by a slim margin of just over 574,000 votes, but he won the 270 Electoral College votes required to be president. The small margin of victory for either candidate from red, blue, and purple states is suggestive of the deep divide within our nation. A recent New York Times article mentions how one impetus behind the development of the Electoral College was slavery. During a time when enslaved Africans were considered property and not people, delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention reached a compromise by counting slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of apportioning Congressional representation and the Electoral College in Presidential elections. To reconcile the colonial revelation around “no taxation without representation” that led to the birth of the Revolutionary War and one unified nation, the Founding Fathers had to take into account the people on the margins.
In the recent October 2016 release of “The Birth of a Nation,” Nate Parker reclaims the title of the silent film D.W. Griffith screened at the White House during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson in 1915. Griffith’s film was a cinematic adaption of the “The Clansman,” a novel by Thomas Dixon, that was “not meant to reflect on any race or people” of the day. Set in the era of Reconstruction, the film perpetuated racial propaganda by reinforcing the stereotypical roles of white women as victims, African American men (in the film a white man in blackface) as villains and white men (the Ku Klux Klan) as heroes. Parker re-appropriates the title and stereotypes in his re-imaging and re-telling of the rebellion Nat Turner led in Southampton County Virginia in 1831.
Nat Turner was a literate preacher in a time when enslaved Africans were manipulated by their slave master’s preaching and prohibited from reading. During Turner’s journey to literacy, he discovered that slave masters reduced their reading of the Bible to a few scriptures that could be used to rationalize and reinforce the oppressive and dehumanizing tradition of slavery. Turner’s turn to violence coincided with his revelatory reading of God’s liberating power to rebirth a nation living in the deep, dismal, despair of bondage and servitude of the strange lands of Egypt and then exile. After months of terror during which hundreds of the enslaved were killed in retaliation by Southern whites, Turner takes solace in knowing that for all his wisdom, vision, and courage his body would be tied with a noose and his legacy would be reduced to a public spectacle as the strange fruit of a lynch mob.
As James Cone articulates, both the cross and the lynching tree are symbols of the oppressive measures used to make a public spectacle out of insurrectionist. Jesus, the revelation of the love ethic of God, is mocked, ridiculed and beaten after being wrongfully accused of rebelling against Rome. In death by crucifixion, Jesus was nailed to a cross and seemingly left to suffer public humiliation as the breath of life left his body. Seemingly forsaken Jesus subverted the curse of one hanged on a tree by reconciling humanity back to God. His work of teaching, healing and reconciling led not only to a nonviolent revolution of morals and values but also to the birth of a movement that would change the course of modern history.
Today, some 230 years after the birth of our nation, there’s another revelation afoot around misrepresentation, miseducation, and misappropriation. To take the call for a moral revolution of values seriously we must prepare for another Great Awakening. The previous American Awakenings were forerunners for the Revolution and later for Emancipation. The next Awakening must be more pluralistic and promote organized nonviolent movements of direct action that result in personal, spiritual renewal and systematic social change. In short, to make America great again she must be born again. To be born again, her citizens must live as the redeemed with the wisdom, vision, and courage needed to establish a legacy of revelation, revolution, and reconciliation that is birthed from the margins whenever and wherever the democracy calls for it.