January 20, 1961, was a bitterly cold day in Washington. And yet, as John and Jackie Kennedy set out on foot from the White House to the Capitol for JFK’s inauguration as president, the sense of cheer and confidence was palpable.
This, after all, was the dawn of “Camelot”.
The brief term that JFK served is looked back upon by many with what could be called “rose-colored” glasses. Things in the JFK White House were supposedly represented the American ideal of home and family. That era is still looked upon my many as a time we “need to get back to”.
On the weekend following the assassination and state funeral, Mrs. Kennedy invited the journalist Theodore White to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis for an exclusive interview to serve as the basis for an essay in a forthcoming issue of Life magazine dedicated to President Kennedy…In that interview Mrs. Kennedy pressed upon White the Camelot image that would prove so influential in shaping the public memory of JFK and his administration. President Kennedy, she told the journalist, was especially fond of the music from the popular Broadway musical, Camelot….But the Camelot image as applied to the Kennedy presidency had some unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. By turning President Kennedy into a liberal idealist (which he was not) and a near legendary figure, Mrs. Kennedy inadvertently contributed to the unwinding of the tradition of American liberalism that her husband represented in life.
Mrs. Kennedy’s image fostered nostalgia for the past in the belief that the Kennedy administration represented a peak of achievement that could not be duplicated. The legend of the Kennedy years as unique or magical was, in addition, divorced from real accomplishments as measured by important programs passed or difficult problems solved. The magical aspect of the New Frontier was located, by contrast, in its style and sophisticated attitude rather than in its concrete achievements.
I have included all this not to be political, but to point out what often happens in the church is we aren’t careful. Let me point out a key section in the article above:
The legend of the Kennedy years as unique or magical was, in addition, divorced from real accomplishments
I have on several occasions visited congregations either in a consulting role or as an interim minister. When we begin to talk about the church and its history they point back to a time period where things were ideal. Attendance, budget, programs — couldn’t have been better. Yet as I dig deeper and really get “behind the scenes” of those times it is discovered that it appeared great on the surface, but there was a lack of leadership development, lack of evangelistic outreach. The focus was almost entirely inward and the nostalgia they feel stems from the comfortable feeling of being in an exclusive club where no one rocked the boat.
As time moved ahead and members got older the natural course of things found them reduced in numbers — living in long past paradigm — totally irrelevant to the current generation.
JFK will always be linked to the idealistic Camelot. Truth is — he accomplished little and has been linked to womanizing and the mafia. Again, my point is simply this.
If your church treasures a time in the past more than they look to the great things God is doing the future — beware. Remember: Camelot is a fictional place.