Sometimes I think we make too much of the anniversaries of significant events, imagining that just because Earth has traveled around the sun for another 365 days it's time to take stock of something again.
But for the whole year of 1968, I'm willing to make an exception. Like 1945, it was a watershed year in and for the U.S., not to mention in and for the world. I'm glad that when 1968 started I was six months into my first full-time job in journalism as a reporter for the now-defunct Rochester (N.Y.) Times-Union. It gave me a better chance, I think, to keep track of that astonishing year.
Many of the major events of that year also had something to do with religion, especially the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose national holiday we will commemorate this coming Monday. Not long after his murder, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, an important step toward trying to make King's dream a reality.
King, in many ways, served as the spiritual conscience of our nation. Like all of us, he had his flaws, but his vision of the Beloved Community was so important that he was able to draw out the best in many of us. Jimmy Carter once said it well: King freed not just African-Americans, he freed many whites as well, including Carter.
It was also in 1968 that Pope Paul VI issued a disruptive encyclical called Humanae Vitae, which as the Wikipedia entry about it notes, "re-affirmed the orthodox teaching of the Catholic Church regarding married love, responsible parenthood and the rejection of most forms of artificial contraception."
It was a line in the sand, and lots of Catholic families in the U.S. elected to cross that line and use contraceptive methods anyway, thus undermining the church's authority and extending the already existing sense of distance between American Catholics and the Vatican.
Of course 1968 will always be remembered for the surprising and even violent political developments, ranging from the decision by Lyndon Johnson not to run for president again, the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the police riot at the Democratic convention in Chicago that summer, the rise of George Wallace and the election of the eventually disgraced Richard M. Nixon as president.
The increasingly unpopular Vietnam War brought us the bloody Tet offensive in early 1968 as well as the shocking My Lai massacre. Vietnam became a profoundly moral question for many Americans as they learned more and more about the many ways our government officials were lying to them.
In 1968, faith communities were already beginning to struggle to remain as central to society as they had been. Protestant Christian churches, particularly, began a long process of membership decline. One response to that was to create new ways of saying what they believed, as "A New Creed" tried to do that year for the United Church of Canada.
I wasn't very active in a church in 1968, though I did get married that year in the First United Methodist Church in Albion, N.Y. The church there has outlasted my marriage, which made it not quite 27 years.
Well, there was much more to 1968, and the link on the year in the second paragraph above will remind (or teach you) of some of those events. (One event not mentioned there is that on this date in 1968, one of my sisters turned 25. She's still celebrating today 50 years later. Way to go, Barb.)
At times in that tumultuous year, the world and our country seemed to be spinning out of control and moving toward some sort of cataclysm. But here we are 50 years later, sometimes even being a bit nostalgic about that year. Though I still like a quip I've heard a few times about that era: If you remember the 1960s, you didn't live through them.
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EVANGELICALS BLOW ANOTHER ONE
It turns out that President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the American Christian evangelical support of that decision has made relations considerably worse with Christian who actually live in the Middle East. This is getting to be a pattern for evangelical Christians in the U.S. -- taking political positions that, on reflection, turn out to make them look thoughtless or naive or hypcritical. They're losing lots of respect because of that trend.