Who Will be the History Makers?

12/07/2008 12:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

You. Why are GM/Ford/Chrysler in so much trouble? You. You decided you wanted better cars. Why is Obama the next president-elect? You decided you wanted change. Why is there terrorism? Some of you, yes some of you, decided this was a good idea.

Bush's begun his exit interviews and his wife Laura's launched into full humanitarian mode. So while you're waiting for Obama to take office and kick it up a gear, who else will make history now that the Bushes will soon only have time to focus on the blueprint for that new presidential library and the plight of Afghani women?

Why you, of course.

I think the car makers, the economy, the 'war on terror' - these are a few broken things. Problem is, we're using old thinking to fix them.

The Episcopal Church is worrying example of the tenacity of old thinking.

This week the Anglican Communion (comprised of The Church of England and those churches around the world in agreement with the Archbishop of Canterbury, including what's known as the Episcopal Church in the US) saw a significant faction break off from its base to form a new denomination. It's an historical break-up and at the center of the split is the legitimacy of the first openly gay bishop - Gene Robinson. As the NYT reports:

"The move threatens the fragile unity of the Anglican Communion, the world's third-largest Christian body, made up of 38 provinces around the world that trace their roots to the Church of England and its spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury."

But in actuality the breaking of the union is over a battle over a literal versus non-literal read of The Bible. As breakaway "Anglican" Bishop John-David Schofield and (non-breakaway) Episcopalian Bishop Jerry Lamb agreed (both interviewed on a radio show I produced this week, both from the same San Joaquin region in California) this is really about scripture, namely who has the power to interpret words: present day 'you' (says the Anglican Communion) or the 'you' (say the breakaway folks) who wrote the words in the past. It's about a fundamentalist reading of The Bible.

Schofield and his minority followers want to stick with the old ways; they've been agitated about gays (and ordained women) for a while. By contrast, the majority of the Anglican Communion is willing to live-and-let live and change with the times.

So the question is this - when do you know when the agitating is wrong or right? Is the breakaway church really proposing "new" thinking or is it re-packaging old ideas? And why now?

Uganda was colonized by the British and most of my father's side of the family grew up with the teachings of the Church of England. These days, some of my relatives have turned to a different shade of religion. They're born-again Christians. This brand has a ghoulish strain of piety, some think that AIDS is cured by faith (so you die of AIDS for lack of devotion) others believe that anyone who is not "saved" is damned. It's a kind-of a running joke for the rest of the family, except what drives them to these views is not especially funny. Nor is it stupidity. It's years of suffering - a murderous dictator, dead parents, disease, abuse, and all sorts of deprivations that make them feel afraid, hopeless, lacking. (Sound familiar? Sure it does, this cycle repeats itself other places). My relatives are looking for stability in a shifting environment and they've found it in this brand of fundamentalism. It's also precisely because of this pain that that their ill-conceived beliefs cannot be underestimated. I do not underrate how strongly they will hold onto their ideas, nor what they will do to "defend" them. There's hardly a thing I could say or do to snap them out of it.

I'm telling you this to underline a point. We might laugh at the ignorant or the intolerant, but there are consequences to disregarding them both.

Case in point: In 2001, a cult which grew out of a quasi-Roman Catholic sect in Uganda killed most of its followers, some 1,000 men, women and children. When I was in Uganda in 2001, reporting on this story for ABCNEWS, my base question was, how could this happen? It was a regular day and all these people died at the hands of folks they were literally praying with the day before. It was banal and easy. Even more disturbing, I remember speaking with followers from other thriving fundamentalist Christian churches and coming home to the relatives I staying with and hearing the same views parroted back. It wouldn't take much for the 2001 tragedy repeat, if only for the prevalence of these views.

It seems to me, we have to be vigilantly aware of the power we have to make history. I'm not saying the breakaway Anglicans are suicidal cultists, but I am saying that both groups do converge at some point.

And I think it comes together here: Fundamentalists, cultists ... and what I'm calling old thinkers are about trying to find comfort in things that cannot protect anyone.

The breakaway Anglicans, for example, claim they are unifiers in order to disguise their actions: dividing the community and excluding gays and sometimes women from leadership positions. As the breakaway group advertises:

"Some of us have been praying for this for decades. Instead of focusing on things that divide us, we as orthodox Anglicans are focusing on the things that unite us."

Okay, so you're not an Episcopalian and you don't care about gay issues or women or a little country with crazy fundamentalists.

Clearly though, America, like the Anglican Communion, is in a fearful yet hopeful time. Both have structural problems and formidable adversaries. So leaders on every level are seeking answers (what they will lose, can they protect those they feel responsible for, have they run out of answers). Under this kind of pressure, some hold onto ideas that give them relief, however archaic those ideas may be.

If only the gays would get in line, all our problems would be solved!

But in a way, they have given up. Maybe we sometimes quit because the measure of our true power frightens us, like Lance Armstrong's extraordinary fight against cancer; the average person might not think he has that in himself. Or, perhaps some of us doubt the fact that we have a means to change things, so we check out and hope for the best.

But the truly terrible and crazy among us are happy to make history. They see the power of the individual and they become the history makers because their individual influence delights them.

Now is a tough time of the year with heat, car and home costs, regular expenses, plus family obligations, which usually mean travel and gift-giving. Interestingly, you are in charge of how you spend what for some is one of the holiest times of the year. You can use it buying crap you might not be able to afford or need. Or, you might say - let me invest in myself and my family. What is broken in this place that can be fixed?

You have a lot of power. You can do a lot of things. What will you do next?