Sunday, July 24, 2016

Abraham Lincoln and RNC Prayers

Pastor Mark Burns concluded Monday's Republican National Convention session with a prayer that called Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party the "enemy" for Republicans.
Hello, Republicans! I’m Pastor Mark Burns from the great state of South Carolina! I’m going to pray and I’m going to give the benediction. You know why? Because we are electing a man in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ.
And Republicans, we’ve got to be united, because our enemy is not other Republicans, but it’s Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Let’s pray together. 
Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump.
We’re thanking that you are guiding him, you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God to defeat every attack that comes against us. 
Protect the life of Donald Trump. Give him the words, give him the peace, given him the power and authority to be the next president of the United States of America.
In Jesus’ name—if you believe it, shout “Amen!” 
Pastor Burns walked that back a bit the next day by saying he wished he would have used the words "political opponents" rather than "enemy". But, he didn't seem to understand the dangers, theological and national, of talking about God as though He is a local god who picks American conservatives over liberals, Republicans over Democrats. Unfortunately, Pastor Burns and all the delegates who roared approval appeared to forget that God is the God of all mankind and Creator of everything--even the "liberal Democratic Party".

detail from photo of Lincoln's second inaugural address
Compare this with the understanding of Abraham Lincoln. In the midst of a horrible civil war that resulted in 620,000 military deaths on both sides, Lincoln gives a speech that is one of the greatest speeches in American history. In his second inaugural address Lincoln seems to start into the Burns' channel by blaming the South for making the war and being the main locus and defender of the cause of the war--slavery.
While the [first] inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. 
But, Lincoln goes on. He recognizes that both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God. And that slavery is an "offense" that comes from the entire nation--not just the South. For as Lincoln points out, slavery has been going on 250 years (that's rounding it up from the first legalization of slavery by Massachusetts in 1642) in what was to become the United States of America.
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? 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."
Thus, it is "true and righteous" that both North and South suffer the "mighty scourge of war" in which profits of "unrequited toil" and "blood drawn with the lash" be repaid by the entire nation.

There is no good side. No godly side. No God's side. All hands are dirty.

Lincoln has already gone deeper into morality and theology than any president before or after. He then does an amazing thing. He tries to reconcile "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:43-48) with rulers being "God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." (Romans 13:1-7)

One phrase of Lincoln's final paragraph is devoted to punishment: "finish the work". Surrounding that are calls for "charity", "bind up", "care for", "do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace".
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.
Lincoln knew that "a just and lasting peace" will only come, if it does come (and it may not), from love to real enemies (not just political opponents). In the speech, Lincoln doesn't explain how he will do this, but he wanted a short, easy reconstruction process.

Lincoln's speech was not popular*. It did not receive resounding cheers, applause** and "amen"s. But, it was full of a greatness that has enriched our nation to this day.
*A good resource for understanding the profound nature of Lincoln's second inaugural address is a lecture given by Ronald White.
**only four occasions of applause


MAX Redline said...

A lot of folks disliked the Rail-Splitter at the time. As has been the case with Reagan, who is to this day reviled by the Left. It takes many decades for the true greatness of a man to become generally acknowledged.

T. D. said...

Apparently on many things he really was "honest Abe". This got him nowhere politically at the time. He was sharing what he believed after much soul-searching. A century and a half later, it still gives light. (And, yes, Reagan is terribly undervalued.)

Here's Lincoln two years earlier:

Washington, D.C.
September, 1862

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party -- and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true -- that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

MAX Redline said...

Today, Abe would give the Left heart attacks. Which would probably accrue to the benefit of all, actually.

"How dare he refer to God!" "Has he never heard of the mythical separation of church and state?"

T. D. said...

Ronald White says that many academics, etc., have told him Lincoln's references to God and to scripture were not unusual in the time period and inaugural statements. But White found only one scriptural citation in an inaugural address (John Adams) previous to Lincoln's and all the references to God were in the last paragraph of the previous inaugural addresses in a "God bless America" sort of statement. Nothing about God, His actions or thinking. It's a truly amazing presidential speech.

MAX Redline said...

Lincoln was truly a renegade, in a sense, and would be hounded today by Leftists claiming "separation of church and state". Never mind that the Founding documents make no such reference; noting instead that the state cannot establish any particular religion. To Leftists, freedom of expression only applies if they want to open a strip club.

T. D. said...

Absolutely right, Max. They have no clue that the First Amendment is to protect from *Congressional laws* "establishing" or "prohibiting free exercise" of religion. They also forget that the guy who used the "wall of separation" line also said our unalienable rights come from God in one of the greatest American political documents.