By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
We hear, over and over, that certain things are being done to save the soul of America. In 1967, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drew harsh criticism for speaking against the Vietnam War, he spoke about his work up to that point, working for the liberation of Black people, had been done in an effort to “save the soul” of America. In like manner, he said, any persons concerned with justice could not in good conscience support the Vietnam War; America’s soul was, once again, lifted as being in mortal danger by the actions of Americans, according to Religioussocialism.org.
In the 2020 election, both candidate Joseph Biden and then-president Donald Trump said they were fighting for the soul of America. Though their opinions and perspectives on why America’s soul was in trouble, they both invoked its mortality as their reasons for seeking or keeping office, The New York Times noted.
In the 2012 presidential election, candidate George Romney chastised President Barack Obama for being “the most pessimistic president” in history and vowed that he would “save the soul of America, The Boston Globe recalled in an op-ed.
What is the substance of America’s soul? And how can two such disparate sides claim to be on the same quest to save it?
From the standpoint of people in this country who have suffered economically, socially and racially, the “soul” of America has been contaminated from the beginning. The framers of the Constitution never embraced an idea of equality for all citizens, and in fact, they debated on who should be allowed to be a citizen. But in the same breath, it is understandable why people like Trump and Romney would think that the soul has been spoiled. Those who dreamt that America was supposed to be a country made by White people for White people are aghast that pluralism has allowed too many non-White people into the country and to become citizens. The desired racial purity they sought has been sullied by the presence of these Brown and Black faces and bodies. The soul of this country needs to be saved, not by granting justice and dignity to all, but by limiting the scope, presence and influence of people who were never supposed to be major players.
So, the question is, which interpretation of “the soul of America” is correct? Both Black and White people are looking at the same documents and are coming away with radically different interpretations. There has never been complete acceptance of America’s soul being a bastion of justice for all. The country was founded by people who brought with them a belief in the superiority of White people, and White people felt buoyed and supported by their religious belief in the inherent inferiority of non-White people. It is not beyond the pale to assume that as efforts to control the influx and influence of non-White people was “out of control” as Black and Brown people entered the country that the people who believed this country was founded by and for White people would have been aghast. It is not hard to believe that they have been in mourning for some time as the projected and desired whiteness of this country has been irreparably stained.
But on the other side, those who believed the words of the Declaration of Independence, but before that, the holy Bible, where, in the case of the Declaration it is stated “all men are created equal,” and in the case of the Bible, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul, and your neighbor as yourself would also believe that the soul of America was scorched from its inception and is not moving any closer to being healed.
The question is, can the “soul” of America, which is seen so differently by Black and White Americans – and certainly other non-White groups – be healed? How does that healing occur? Who makes the first move? How can so wide a chasm be crossed? Is healing really possible?
The questions sit before us like immovable statues. They cannot be answered and yet they must be answered. And if the answer is “no,” what is next for this country? Can a country with such a damaged soul move forward, or is it destined to be swallowed up in the conflict that is ever growing within it?
What seems inevitable that this country is changing, carrying with it its damaged, tattered soul. America’s soul is on life-support, and just as any physical illness cannot be properly treated unless and until there is a correct diagnosis, this country cannot survive with its “soul” being undefined and clear to all. America’s soul was a problem from the very beginning. And the problems are emerging in full force right before our eyes.
“It doth not yet appear” what this country shall be.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. And she is an award-winning author for her latest book, “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America,” available through all booksellers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.