Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.Deuteronomy 16:20
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.Psalm 34:14
Not long after the founding of the United States, settlement began in what was then called the Northwest Territory—what we’d call the upper Midwest. At that moment, the country could have colonized those areas, exploiting them for the benefit of the Thirteen States. We could have become an empire.
|A Reflection in Response to the Insurrection of January 6, 2021
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Instead, settlement was governed by the Northwest Ordinance, a statute that provided a path toward statehood for these newly-settled territories. A plan that gave citizenship and the franchise to those who lived there. With the choice between remaining a republic or becoming an empire, we chose to be a republic.
In each generation, we are faced with the choice between maintaining our republic and lapsing into the habits of empire. In each generation, we as a people have had to renew our commitment to democracy.
How we save that democracy matters.
That was a message that Abraham Lincoln tried to convey. Lincoln never joined any particular church or denomination (although we Methodists like to claim him because he attended an evangelism meeting at Foundry). But faith shaped his life and his understanding of his politics. One hundred fifty-eight years ago he gave his closing message to Congress for the year, 1https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/onamerica.htm and his faith was evident in what he had to say:
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We—even we here—hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862
“We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” Lincoln noted that there might be various means to succeed at defending our democracy but one way that could not fail: “The way is plain, peaceful, generous, [and] just.”
Politics inspires passion. In its better moments, it can inspire us toward a productive rivalry in which the competition produces consensus and compromise that moves us forward as a people. In its worse moments, it can turn into tribalism and divisiveness.
Politics inspires passion, but it matters how those passions are followed.
The relationship between church and state over the centuries has been a complicated one and one of much discussion and debate. Should the state lend its support to the church or vice-versa? Should they be entirely separate, should the church stay out of politics altogether?
Ideally, the church should not act as an agency of the state, but should be the conscience of the state. If we Christians would live out our faith as citizens, it upon us to provide the moral and ethical framework necessary for the preservation of the democracy that Lincoln spoke to.
The plain path of Peace, Generosity, Justice. Those are the values that sustain and preserve a democracy. Those are the values that inform how the passions of politics should be expressed.
But in order for them to be part of our politics, they must be a part of the fabric of our lives. The values of peace, generosity, and justice must be made part of our everyday ethic. We cannot be violent with our neighbors, and expect that peace will exist in our politics. We cannot be stingy with grace and expect that generosity will exist in our politics. We cannot be reluctant to work for justice and expect that justice will be a part of our politics.
Today is a tragic day in the history of our republic. We have witnessed an assault on the rule of law and on the hallowed traditions of our democracy. It is a violence rooted in ignorance and fear, and driven by hate, racism, and White Supremacy. Such violence and lawlessness must be denounced and opposed. And it must also be countered by providing a foundation greater than hate and ignorance, violence and lawlessness.
As Christians, we are in a singular position to help to guide and shape the moral and ethical fabric of our country. If we would preserve our country and the republic that governs it, we must live those Christian values of peace, generosity, and justice and ensure that they remain woven into the fabric of our society. We must lay the foundation of a peaceful society, a generous society, a just society.
If we do this, “the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”