Pastor’s Perspective – September 2017
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Politics has descended into non-stop guerilla warfare, becoming an endless campaign of protest and counter demonstration. The 24 hour news cycle and the non-stop political season has injured the ability of the politicians to actually accomplish the task of governing. The “politics of personal destruction” has merged with “the swamp” to form a toxic environment that is lethal to civil discourse and may well prove to end the grand experiment of our Founding Fathers. Impeachment is now casually used as a political tool and is wielded by men and women who also speak openly of assassination. Our casual hatred of the other side has metastasized into murderous hearts of eternal vengeance.
It is perhaps ironic that Civil War statues have become the touchpoint of our political animus. As we hurtle toward a place of violence and intransigence, like those involved in a long term family dispute, we refight old battles and revisit old arguments. The old wounds, picked raw over decades of creative imagination and personal projection, have emerged once again in order to provide a context for the rage that has captured a generation of those who would rather struggle for control of the past than consider the dire prospects of their own futures.
We have not yet learned the lesson of the Civil War. We somehow imagine that the War resolved the issues that divided us. It did not. The sad legacy of the Civil War was that long after the war was concluded, the causes of the conflict are still being debated. While a victor was declared almost one hundred and fifty years ago, the issues of federalism, States rights, slavery, race, and freedom are still debated. The Civil War should be a cautionary tale for the nation, instead it has become a rallying cry.
During the height of the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address to a nation deep in the thralls of an open ended war. He was unequivocal in his understanding of the war as a divine judgement on the nation. Lincoln spoke to and for the nation as he acknowledged our collective blood guilt for slavery. He wrote, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Lincoln presented the War Between the States as a divine judgment against the nation. The war itself was framed as a form of penance paid by a sinful people, but the President did not consider judgment to be the final word of God for his people. He concluded his Second Inaugural Address with these words of grace. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
We need to take heed to the words of President Lincoln once again, for these words were spoken from a knowledge of the grace found in Jesus Christ alone. We must personally and corporately reject the “eye for an eye” justice that led our nation to a bloody Civil War and through decades of subsequent racism and strife.
Regardless of our opinions on statues or Nazis, the response to racism and hatred must not be hatred and violence. If it is, then we will have perpetuated the disastrous legacy of the post-war reconstruction and will consign ourselves to repeat the failure of history for another generation. Historians tell us that the punishment of Germany after the First World War directly resulted in the rise of the Nazi party. Vengeance for past sins provided the kindling that lit an even more devastating sequel. Dr. King told us that darkness does not eliminate darkness, only light can do that. Violence does not stop violence, it perpetuates it.
It is always difficult to move forward after suffering a personal or corporate injury. Our loss and our injuries cause us to fixate on our wounds instead of allowing us to focus our energy on a vision for tomorrow. This backward thinking consigns us to nurse old wounds or plot vengeance for past offenses. This is not a strategy for personal or national health, but a recipe for destruction.
In order to be the best that we can be, we must rediscover our vision for tomorrow. This must begin with forgiveness born of love. Forgiveness for both personal and corporate sins. There is a good reason why Jesus instructs those who would follow him to forgive others and to even to love our enemies. Without forgiveness there is no way forward. You cannot go to the Promised Land if you keep turning back to smite your enemy. When we fail to forgive others we allow our enemies to not only blur our vision, but to take over our life’s agenda. That is how the darkness wins. It clouds every new day with the disappointments of the past.
The crisis of our moment is not the granite statues that pepper our landscape. Removing them will not rejuvenate the hardened heart of the nation. Our crisis is that we have hearts of stone where there should be flesh. When hearts become hardened by fear, anger and hatred everything looks like an attack and your neighbor’s flaws become unforgiveable. We need God to transform our hearts of stone into hearts that can love and forgive again. I beg you to turn away from your anger and forgive those who have wounded you. Do not let your hearts be swept away in the chaos of this world of vengeance.
In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, be “instruments of (God’s) peace.”
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”