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Cultural ‘awareness’ but not woke warrior

My wife and I were married 51 years ago last month (May 29th). We were both graduate students (she at Tulane and me at New Orleans Baptist Seminary). We had been engaged for 14 months and we both felt that was “long enough” (her description) or alternatively “way too long” (my description).

We were poor as church mice. Our income consisted of the $80 a week salary I received as pastor of a small storefront church in the French Quarter and the $217 a month she received from her Tulane scholarship. Eighty dollars a month went for the rent of a small apartment on the seminary campus. What sparse furniture we had was “early discard” in style.

While we both lived in New Orleans, we were getting married in Chattanooga (my wife’s home). We had three weeks break between the spring semester and the summer term, so my wife went home to prepare for a wedding in three weeks’ time.

I drove up from New Orleans three days before the wedding (nearly missing the deadline for my Wasserman test (ask your parents, or your grandparents).

After the wedding, we had three days’ time to travel back to New Orleans for the start of summer classes.

So our three-day honeymoon consisted of a wedding night in the Honeymoon Suite at the Downtowner Motor Inn in Anniston, Alabama, followed by a second night at the Albert Pick Motor Inn in Mobile, and then traveling the third day to New Orleans so we could spend our first night in our new apartment.

This detailed introduction does have relevance to the rest of the story.

As serious Christians who both felt called to full-time service in ministry (my wife as a counselor and social worker and me as a pastor), we maintained a sexually chaste relationship until we had exchanged our marriage vows.

To make up for a 72-hour “honeymoon,” we made several Friday night and Saturday excursions (I had to be back to preach on Sunday morning) to areas surrounding the Crescent City.

As newlyweds who had just begun to experience the unique joy and wonder of the “two becoming one” through God’s priceless gift of marriage, those summer weekend excursions retain a cherished, precious, and unique place in our memories.

“Oak Alley” Plantation in Vacherie
“Oak Alley” Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. |

One such trip was to the “Oak Alley” Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Justifiably famous, “Oak Alley” received its name from the towering oak trees planted on both sides of the entrance which makes a majestic 50-yard-long driveway up to the plantation building itself, a beautiful home in flamingo pink stucco.

It was a beautiful holiday and on that distant July weekend, it seemed magical to us as we basked in the mutual wonder and intimacy of our new life’s partner.

I purchased a print of “Oak Alley” and we had it framed and placed over the headboard in our bedroom. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of that incandescent summer weekend with its promise of a lifetime journey with my “Eve.”

However, we have now removed the “Oak Alley” print from our wall and discarded it. Why? Because I believe the Holy Spirit broke through my blindness and insensitivity to the fact that despite its evident charm and beauty, in essence, “Oak Alley” was a slave labor camp.

Once that fully soaked into my consciousness, and after I shared that new comprehension with my wife, we both agreed that it had to be removed. The treasured memories it held for us were dwarfed by the monstrous and dehumanizing system and culture it symbolized.

For far too long, too many Americans have romanticized the antebellum South and the civilization that was “Gone With the Wind.”

Let me be clear — I am not a woke warrior seeing systematic racism as pervasive in American life. I feel very fortunate to have been raised in the era of the victory of the Civil Rights movement led by the incomparable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Wokeism, and its fellow traveler, “critical race theory,” undermines everything Dr. King symbolized. In the woke world of critical race theory, everyone is judged by the color of their skin and not the nature of their character.

As I have pledged and asserted before on these pages and elsewhere, I will never give up on Dr. King’s dream of a multi-ethnic society in which each individual is judged not by skin pigmentation, but by his or her character.

However, that does not excuse ignorance or blindness to the racial injustices that mar and besmirch our nation’s story. We must face our history, “warts and all,” and that we, as Americans, regardless of our ethnicity, have been the recipients of a priceless national legacy dedicated to “liberty and justice for all,” no matter how long it may take.

In denying that national heritage, our country’s harshest critics make that journey more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

However dedicated we may be to that cause, we also must not ignore, downplay, or whitewash (if that term does not offend the “woke” culture warriors), the flaws, blind spots, and evil episodes that are part of America’s story.

Like all human institutions, we have carried, and continue to carry, the grandeur of our nation’s dream of “all men being created equal” in the earthen vessels of our fallible humanity.

As we together seek that ever more perfect Union, let us all draw encouragement and inspiration from the victories that are won, large and small, even to the removal of a cherished print when it is perceived in a new and more enlightened context.

Let us all pledge to each other that as fellow Americans we will diligently seek to achieve our national motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” “out of many, one.”*

*The phrase E Pluribus Unum was adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782 as the national motto and placed on the Seal of the United States.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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