500 years ago this week, a young priest, disgusted with the leadership of his faith selling indulgences — tickets to heaven, if you will — nailed 95 Theses or protests onto the door of a church on All Hallows’ Eve. Martin Luther’s declaration of independence, speaking truth to power, sparked a revolution known as The Protestant Reformation.
The world changed in 1517 as a result of Luther’s actions. Some changes were positive, others bloody horrible. Reflecting on this history led me to four observations and some questions that North Carolina and our nation might ponder.
Let’s begin with the power of one. Thomas Jefferson said that one person with courage is a majority. There were doubtless others who thought the hierarchy of the church was misdirected and wrong, but it took one person to be the catalyst for change. Martin Luther sparked the fire of reform.
The fire spread rapidly by widespread communication to the masses. Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. By Luther’s time printing was widely distributed. Newspapers, radio and television, the Internet and social media have sparked similar reforms today — some positive and some misguided. Minds are changed and actions are spurred by the availability and use of mass media.
Reforms are usually messy. Martin Luther deplored the death and destruction that resulted from the Reformation, but movements often take on lives of their own and control is lost. Even if no blood is shed, the resultant upheaval usually wreaks havoc, at the least creating great uncertainty.
My final observation is of the great resistance to change. Those in power don’t like change and will go to great lengths to maintain their power. They want the status quo in political parties, corporations, church hierarchy and even family structures, so as to keep their hold over others. Even those without power don’t embrace too much change too fast.
Our state and our nation are in a time of reformation, a changing of the guard. Nowhere is that more evident than in politics. If the political culture can be likened to a giant pendulum, swinging to and fro, it is a fact that we have witnessed a decided swing to the right.
Questions to ponder are many. Has that pendulum swung too far? Many of us could suggest changes we would advocate for North Carolina, but are there common threads that will unite sufficient numbers to bring about change? Who is today’s Martin Luther, the one or several who might have the courage, the wisdom and the charisma needed to lead that change? Right now we don’t see one. And will this new reform continue the swing toward the right, move us back to the center or even in a leftward direction?
We sense a great unrest among people in North Carolina; most desire a return to times when the climate wasn’t so divisive, partisan and angry. The pace of change has escalated so rapidly it seems to occur every few years instead of over decades or generations. Swings in the economy, job uncertainties, changes in power structures at all levels and great upheavals have us longing for calmer waters with less disruption.
But the signs clearly portend change. As the 1970s pop song correctly predicted, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.