When interviewed about the Jan. 6 insurrection, several politicians and leaders within this nation declared, “This is not who we are. This is not America.” Is it not? Why are we surprised by anti-democratic activity and violence that perpetuates the hate and dehumanization of certain groups and ethnicities? We can tell lies for so long that we start to believe them.

I propose that we fail to live in the free and moral America that many of us hope for because we are more committed to the lies that shackle us to the status quo.

How do we expect citizens to care for one another when the state tells lies to protect its Heritage [Act]? There are approximately 60 confederate monuments in South Carolina. I know much has already been said and written about the monument at the Greenwood County Courthouse that was erected “To Our Confederate Soldiers.” When this “Our” excludes at least 40% of the city’s residents, it is an affront to humanity and democracy for all.

Engraved on the north side of the monument, “In legend and lay. Our heroes in gray. Shall forever live over again for us.” For some of us to attain freedom and justice, your legends and heroes may need to no longer live in the public square. The memorial stands in contrast with the notions of American jurisprudence that we hope will be afforded to all who enter the courthouse.

“The Civil War did exist. We need to learn from our past and make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of our past, and move forward as a nation and as a state,” remarked Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Of course, these are not lies. But they are a distraction from the more prominent truths that we do not want to face. Why is it not clearly preposterous to uphold heroes and memorialize the heritage of human traffickers, enslavers, serial rapists and many whose wealth and livelihood were based on the dehumanization of other people?

Such narratives make us negligent neighbors, lying citizens and erect barriers that keep us from building a more just America.

In 2021, if we want a better America, then we have to tell the truth.

What does it take to tell truths that demonstrate care for our neighbors and freedom for all the inhabitants of this nation? It takes moral courage. It means having the fortitude to make changes and take risks that bring about greater good and justice.

In the Bible, there is a story in which Jesus told the people that if they followed His words, the truth would set them free. Perhaps your thoughts about this article may be like those who responded to Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants,” they answered. “We have never been slaves to anyone. How can You say we will be set free?” Why focus on freedom if you already have attained it? Well, these inquisitors were informed that they were indeed slaves — slaves to evil. Being caring humans means telling the truth about what is enslaving us and learning what is enslaving our neighbors. The pervasive evils do not enslave some, but it shackles us all, and keeps us from moving forward to freedom.

We all have work to do and need to interrogate our complicity. If your patriotism enslaves you or others then it needs to be reexamined. Are you shackled to a heritage that keeps you from moving toward freedom? What are you willing to risk to build an America where liberty and justice is for all? How might our obsession with our wellbeing keep us from seeing the humanity of our neighbors? What might it look like to tell a truth that will improve the welfare of our neighbors?

Let us tell the truth. That we might be better neighbors and together a better nation. Telling the truth might indeed set us free.

The Rev. Alexis Carter Thomas is a writer, researcher and adjunct professor at Lander University.