Truthful about the Past

December 10, 2013

As the world memorializes former South African President Nelson Mandela, Robert Parham penned an excellent Ethics Daily column on the need to be truthful about the past. In it, he noted the opposition to Mandela - and the support for apartheid - by some conservative white Baptists in the United States during the 1980s. (On a similar note, some liberals falsely laud Mandela today as a nonviolent hero like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi even though Mandela embraced violence.) Parham is correct in noting the need to avoid whitewashing our past. The voices who misjudged critical issues in the past should be considered more cautiously in the present and future. As Parham wrote:

Honoring Mandela requires that we remember that he was once hated for his mission to end a nation's policy of racial segregation. Such memory, however, isn't enough. We need to recall that Mandela listened and learned from others, practiced forgiveness, sought reconciliation and refused to accumulate political power. These virtues are worthy of our emulation.
While it is good to honor Mandela in the present, if we want to truly build a better future we must accurately remember the past. The fact is that much work toward racial reconciliation, peace, and justice remains uncompleted. As President Barack Obama stated in his speech at Mandela's memorial service:
But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. ... We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. ... There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
Hopefully we can find the prophetic voice needed for our times.

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