Through a quirk of fate, every year I am responsible for the essay that will arrive on this site, on Thanksgiving. For much of my Spectrum writing “career” I used this space, on this day, to take a break from the advocacy of any particular political or theological position and express a message of thankfulness. I did away with that tradition recently as events in the church and the world led me to want to use this opportunity for us to think differently about thankfulness and what that means. But I’ve struggled to write this year’s piece because I find it increasingly difficult to find, on a large scale, what I can be thankful for. There is so much bad news regarding so many of the things and causes I care about.
I am sitting here writing this as the USA is going through another rash of gun violence. Last week there were several mass shootings. This type of violence has become so pervasive that, as a society, we barely even notice anymore. The solution to gun violence (if there is one) is complex and convoluted. When (or if) we ever decide to come out from our fighting corners we should admit that such a conclusion must include significant and meaningful regulation of the right to bear arms, while also investing in mental health in a way that identifies and gives help to these people who so desperately need it. And we also have to be willing to admit that the societal diseases of racism, homophobia and misogyny are at the root of so much of this violence, and the solution isn’t to ignore it, but expose and condemn it.
We now live in a world where women have fewer rights than they did five months ago. It bothers me that, unless something drastic happens, we will be living in a society that that has reverted to where it was sixty years ago. Simply because we now have enough conservative ideologues on the Supreme Court who no longer care about precedent or reliance – and are accountable to no one. The horror stories have already begun. It bothers me that whether a woman has rights will now be determined by where she lives, or where she has the means to travel. It bothers me that I am not even sure if the previous sentence will remain true. It bothers me that the court has given states license to insert themselves into a question that neither they nor religion can answer with clarity. And the only people who will suffer are young girls and women who will have no opportunity to exercise their own free will over their own bodies.
We now live in a society where Christianity is often conflated with conservative Evangelicalism. It bothers me that this doesn’t raise a positive connotation. It bothers me in turn that conservative Evangelicalism for the past fifty years has been politically bound to the Republican Party. It saddens me that this political influence has been used to try and create a Christian society through the force of law, rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. This movement was born out of a desire to continue living by racist policies. In addition, over the years this movement promulgated legalized sexism, classism and homophobia. Unfortunately they were rewarded in 2020 with a favorable Supreme Court, and we saw the outcome of that with the Dobbs decision earlier this year. As someone who is interested in religious liberty this all makes me very sad.
So what is there to be thankful for when the world seems to be headed in the wrong direction? What can I be thankful for in this society and in my church? This year I am thankful that the struggle continues. I am thankful that just because things sometimes seem bleak it doesn’t mean that the struggle is over and we can’t be better than we were this year. I am grateful for all the wonderful people who continue to try and reach out to the church in various ways – to help it see the world and its theology differently. I am thankful for every person who left the church because they could no longer sit in support of something they no longer believe in. I pray they will find the peace and solace that can come in separating themselves from the pain, trauma and battles. I am excited for the communities they are finding and creating that can show our institutions a better way. I am thankful for the people who stayed and are working to continually use their influence to help the church be better. The truth that I am thankful for this year is the realization that, regardless of what happens, this work goes on. Each and every day there are more people who want to be a part of it, and who are helped because of it. Despite the losses and setbacks I am most thankful that this is still true and we all continue to have a chance to join this work in whatever way we can.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
Title image: Wikimedia Commons
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