Theologically speaking, the original sin occurred with Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. Their act of disobedience, as I’m sure you’re aware, involved a serpent and a visit to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In artistic depictions, they are often seen eating an apple, draped in leaves to hide their nakedness. Still, there are other translations of what happened that day. Despite the variances in interpretation, most people who subscribe to one of the Abrahamic faiths believe this is where it all went wrong. According to scripture, Adam and Eve set off a whole set of cataclysmic events, one being the disruption of harmony among all living beings.
This week, I attended the Moral Revival held at Light of the World Christian Church. The event featured Rev. William J. Barber, Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. and several other speakers. At one point in the program, people from across the entire state who had personal experiences with LGBTQ discrimination, mass incarceration, low minimum wage and other issues gave their testimonies. It was a very touching experience, and I’m so glad I was there.
Barber, who some may know from his stirring speech during this year’s Democratic National Convention, introduced an entirely different concept of ancestral transgression. By his inference, our nation’s original sin is steeped in race. To further his point, he referenced the book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, written by Jim Wallis, a white reverend. In the book, Wallis says, “Racism is America’s original sin and must be named as such. Sometimes it expresses itself explicitly and overtly, with the Charleston murders (2015) being perhaps the most extreme example in decades. But racism lingers far more pervasively in implicit and covert ways in American institutions and culture, in often unconscious attitudes, and in the very structures of our society.”
Wallis and Barber could not be more spot on. In the United States, the serpent of classism, racism, sexism and patriarchy slithers through the halls of our courts, classrooms and places of worship, seeking to entice with the promise of power those whose hearts are hardened by prejudice and greed, and enacting policies and procedures that discriminate against entire segments of our population. In Indiana, there are people suffering due to lack of access to health care, food and clean water. There are hard-working people who, no matter how much they try, can’t make ends meet on $7.25 an hour. There are children in West Calumet who can’t go outside and play because the ground is poisoned. Black children are suspended from school at rates that are highly disproportionate to that of their white counterparts. There may be no actual tree of the knowledge of good and evil in this scenario, but there are trees, across the entire expanse of land, from which our ancestors hung and bled. That strange fruit, rotting and bruised, is displayed a bit differently these days. It pops up on your Facebook newsfeeds and on television screens in a constant, overwhelming rotation. To take the original sin connection one step further, is the issue of harmony. In all facets of daily life, we are separated on the basis of belief, gender identity, sexual orientation, nation of origin, ethnicity and other categories. This separation has built a level of mistrust, hate and disdain that seems to be irreparable.
To paraphrase the hymn sung by the choir Monday evening, our people are suffering, and it’s gone on way too long.
Despite the bleak circumstances, there is an opportunity for redemption. I like to refer to myself as a cautious optimist, so I believe, like many others, that this country still has a chance to make things right.
Where do we start? With utilizing our voice, influence and privilege in opposition to injustice. With taking a personal account of ourselves and our hearts. With belief.
At the close of his sermon, Barber said, “Somebody has to believe that right can still be actualized and justice still be mobilized. Somebody has to believe that things of the heart can be fixed. Even the heart of a nation.”