January 14, 2009

On the Right Side of History

2009 1502 page6 capN THE HIGHLY POLITICIZED CAPITAL OF WASHINGTON, D.C., THE worst thing that can happen to an aspiring luminary is to be found (quote) “on the wrong side of history.”
But however much we might aspire to be on the right side of history, it’s not always clear where exactly that is. Dietrich Bonhoeffer could not know how the world would eventually view his daring protest against Nazi atrocity; Russian novelist/historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn could not be sure how history would turn out when he embarked on the dangerous venture of exposing the Soviet Union’s gulag; Filipinos in the mid-1980s who took to the streets in a massive demonstration of “people power” had no tea leaves on the outcome; and U.S. president Ronald Reagan didn’t know his words were headed for immortality when he shouted into a Berlin microphone: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
2009 1502 page6I’m thinking about all this in connection with two important events in the United States occurring just about the time you’re reading this editorial: January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day; and January 20, the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the United States— a “man bites dog” event, bringing to mind words such as incredible, astonishing, staggering, mind-blowing. And it seems fitting to take notice of this extraordinary coincidence—the one leader dreaming of a time when Americans would judge one another by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin; the other, with the overwhelming support of the American people, fulfilling that very dream. Just 54 years ago, a dog-tired Rosa Parks faced the fury of the authorities for the crime of occupying “the wrong seat” on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama; today an African-American moves into the Oval Office, to sit in the most powerful chair in the country!
How should Adventists respond to all this?
In an article in Newsweek’s online edition for November 15, 2008, Lisa Miller tells how “apocalypse watchers” have come to the conclusion that Barack Obama is the antichrist—sentiments fueled by former Saturday Night Live personality Victoria Jackson, who reportedly wrote on her Web site that Obama “bears traits that resemble the anti-Christ.” One apocalypse watcher from Illinois thought it highly significant that “one of the winning lottery numbers in the president-elect’s home state was 666.”
Not for a moment should Adventists be found on the side of those advocating such harebrained piffle. It’s the wrong side of history, and the American people, as a whole, are not there. Regardless of how they voted, they understand that we’re standing on the threshold of a brand-new thing; and for weeks, official Washington has been bracing for a logistical nightmare, as some 3-4 million people descend on the nation’s capital for the inaugural ceremonies.
Last month, ABC Television carried an interview with President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura, and (briefly) daughter Barbara. “Did you ever expect to see it?” World News anchor Charlie Gibson asked the couple, “—the election of an African-American as president in your lifetime?” “No,” they both said. Then Gibson went on: “And you, Barbara, did you expect to see it in your lifetime?” “I did,” she responded without a moment’s hesitation. “I’m really impressed; but I don’t think it’s surprising at all.”
Barbara’s matter-of-fact, shrug-shoulder response reflects the direction of history, the trend of the future. Hers is a generation that sees what happened as something normal. If you’re in sync with that attitude, you’re on the right side of history. For it’s the wave of the future—not only of time, but of eternity, as well. Said the seer of Patmos: “I looked and there before me was a great multitude . . . from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).
The greatest incentive to be—and stay—on the right side of history.

Roy Adams is associate editor of the Adventist Review.