A House Divided

On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention.  Lincoln’s friends thought the speech was too harsh and politically unwise, but he gave it anyway.

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition?

Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery so to speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted; but also, let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidence of design and concert of action, among its chief architects, from the beginning.

But, so far, Congress only, had acted; and an indorsement by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable, to save the point already gained, and give chance for more.

The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the national territory by congressional prohibition.

Four days later, commenced the struggle, which ended in repealing that congressional prohibition.

This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained.

This necessity had not been overlooked; but had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of “squatter sovereignty,” otherwise called “sacred right of self government,” which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: That if any one man, choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object.

That argument was incorporated into the Nebraska bill itself, in the language which follows: “It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or state, not to exclude it therefrom; but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”

Then opened the roar of loose declamation in favor of “Squatter Sovereignty,” and “Sacred right of self-government.”

“But,” said opposition members, “let us be more specific — let us amend the bill so as to expressly declare that the people of the territory may exclude slavery.” “Not we,” said the friends of the measure; and down they voted the amendment.

While the Nebraska Bill was passing through congress, a law case involving the question of a negroe’s freedom, by reason of his owner having voluntarily taken him first into a free state and then a territory covered by the congressional prohibition, and held him as a slave, for a long time in each, was passing through the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Missouri; and both Nebraska bill and law suit were brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1854. The negroe’s name was “Dred Scott,” which name now designates the decision finally made in the case.

Before the then next Presidential election, the law case came to, and was argued in, the Supreme Court of the United States; but the decision of it was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election, Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the Senate, requests the leading advocate of the Nebraska bill to state his opinion whether the people of a territory can constitutionally exclude slavery from their limits; and the latter answers: “That is a question for the Supreme Court.”

The election came. Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the indorsement, such as it was, secured. That was the second point gained. The indorsement, however, fell short of a clear popular majority by nearly four hundred thousand votes, and so, perhaps, was not overwhelmingly reliable and satisfactory.

The outgoing President, in his last annual message, as impressively as possible, echoed back upon the people the weight and authority of the indorsement.

The Supreme Court met again; did not announce their decision, but ordered a re-argument.

The Presidential inauguration came, and still no decision of the court; but the incoming President, in his inaugural address, fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision, whatever might be.

Then, in a few days, came the decision.

The reputed author of the Nebraska Bill finds an early occasion to make a speech at this capital indorsing the Dred Scott Decision, and vehemently denouncing all opposition to it.

The new President, too, seizes the early occasion of the Silliman letter to indorse and strongly construe that decision, and to express his astonishment that any different view had ever been entertained.

At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska Bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that squabble the latter declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up. I do not understand his declaration that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, to be intended by him other than as an apt definition of the policy he would impress upon the public mind — the principle for which he declares he has suffered much, and is ready to suffer to the end.

And well may he cling to that principle. If he has any parental feeling, well may he cling to it. That principle, is the only shred left of his original Nebraska doctrine. Under the Dred Scott decision, “squatter sovereignty” squatted out of existence, tumbled down like temporary scaffolding — like the mould at the foundry served through one blast and fell back into loose sand — helped to carry an election, and then was kicked to the winds. His late joint struggle with the Republicans, against the Lecompton Constitution, involves nothing of the original Nebraska doctrine. That struggle was made on a point, the right of a people to make their own constitution, upon which he and the Republicans have never differed.

The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas’ “care-not” policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. This was the third point gained.

The working points of that machinery are:

First, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States.

This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of this provision of the United States Constitution, which declares that–

“The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.”

Secondly, that “subject to the Constitution of the United States,” neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States Territory.

This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus to enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.

Thirdly, that whether the holding a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master.

This point is made, not to be pressed immediately; but, if acquiesced in for a while, and apparently indorsed by the people at an election, then to sustain the logical conclusion that what Dred Scott’s master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State.

Auxiliary to all this, and working hand in hand with it, the Nebraska doctrine, or what is left of it, is to educate and mould public opinion, at least Northern public opinion, to not care whether slavery is voted down or voted up.

This shows exactly where we now are; and partially, also, whither we are tending.

It will throw additional light on the latter, to go back, and run the mind over the string of historical facts already stated. Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did when they were transpiring. The people were to be left “perfectly free” “subject only to the Constitution.” What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough now, it was an exactly fitted niche, for the Dred Scott decision to afterward come in, and declare the perfect freedom of the people, to be just no freedom at all.

Why was the amendment, expressly declaring the right of the people to exclude slavery, voted down? Plainly enough now, the adoption of it would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision.

Why was the court decision held up? Why even a Senator’s individual opinion withheld, till after the presidential election? Plainly enough now, the speaking out then would have damaged the “perfectly free” argument upon which the election was to be carried.

Why the outgoing President’s felicitation on the indorsement? Why the delay of a reargument? Why the incoming President’s advance exhortation in favor of the decision?

These things look like the cautious patting and petting of a spirited horse, preparatory to mounting him, when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall.

And why the hasty after indorsements of the decision by the President and others?

We can not absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen — Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance — and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few — not omitting even scaffolding — or, if a single piece be lacking, we can see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared to yet bring such piece in — in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.

It should not be overlooked that, by the Nebraska Bill, the people of a State, as well as Territory, were to be left “perfectly free” “subject only to the Constitution.”

Why mention a State? They were legislating for territories, and not for or about States. Certainly the people of a State are and ought to be subject to the Constitution of the United States; but why is mention of this lugged into this merely territorial law? Why are the people of a territory and the people of a state therein lumped together, and their relation to the Constitution therein treated as being precisely the same?

While the opinion of the Court, by Chief Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott case, and the separate opinions of all the concurring Judges, expressly declare that the Constitution of the United States neither permits Congress nor a Territorial legislature to exclude slavery from any United States territory, they all omit to declare whether or not the same Constitution permits a state, or the people of a State, to exclude it.

Possibly, this is a mere omission; but who can be quite sure, if McLean or Curtis had sought to get into the opinion a declaration of unlimited power in the people of a state to exclude slavery from their limits, just as Chase and Macy sought to get such declaration, in behalf of the people of a territory, into the Nebraska bill — I ask, who can be quite sure that it would not have been voted down, in the one case, as it had been in the other.

The nearest approach to the point of declaring the power of a State over slavery, is made by Judge Nelson. He approaches it more than once, using the precise idea, and almost the language too, of the Nebraska act. On one occasion his exact language is, “except in cases where the power is restrained by the Constitution of the United States, the law of the State is supreme over the subject of slavery within its jurisdiction.”

In what cases the power of the states is so restrained by the U.S. Constitution, is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the restraint on the power of the territories was left open in the Nebraska act. Put that and that together, and we have another nice little niche, which we may, ere long, see filled with another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits.

And this may especially be expected if the doctrine of “care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, shall gain upon the public mind sufficiently to give promise that such a decision an be maintained when made.

Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States.

Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown.

We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.

To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty, is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation.

This is what we have to do.

But how can we best do it?

There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed.

They remind us that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this be granted. But “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don’t care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the “public heart” to care nothing about it.

A leading Douglas Democratic newspaper thinks Douglas’ superior talent will be needed to resist the revival of the African slave trade.

Does Douglas believe an effort to revive that trade is approaching? He has not said so. Does he really think so? But if it is, how can he resist it? For years he has labored to prove it a sacred right of white men to take negro slaves into the new territories. Can he possibly show that it is less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheapest? And, unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa than in Virginia.

He has done all in his power to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a mere right of property; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave trade — how can he refuse that trade in that “property” shall be “perfectly free” — unless he does it as a protection to the home production? And as the home producers will probably not ask the protection, he will be wholly without a ground of opposition.

Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser to-day than he was yesterday — that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong.

But can we, for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can we safely base our action upon any such vague inference?

Now, as ever, I wish not to misrepresent Judge Douglas’ position, question his motives, or do ought that can be personally offensive to him.

Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventitious obstacle.

But clearly, he is not now with us — he does not pretend to be — he does not promise to ever be.

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends — those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work — who do care for the result.

Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong.

We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us.

Of strange, discordant, and even, hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.

Did we brave all then to falter now? — now — when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and belligerent?

The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.

Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later the victory is sure to come.

Christianity and White Supremacy

 

There is always a danger putting 21st Century beliefs and standards on people from other times, and this is no different with the ideas surrounding slavery.

The enslavement of other people is “biblical” in a sense, and those biblical ideas were used to justify slavery well into the 29th century here in the United States.  The Southern Baptist Convention recently voted on a resolution condemning white supremacy, and that has ignited another conversation about the role the Church played in historical thoughts and ideas about slavery here in the United States.

I am in no way endorsing or defending their ideas just stating that we 21st Century Christians have a different understanding of Scripture than our 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th-century counterparts did so we cannot hold them to our standard.

I was in the process of researching this issue when I noticed an article by Kyle Roberts come across my twitter feed so rather than duplicate the effort I will link to Kyle’s excellent piece.

Here is just a bit of the article and I would encourage you to read the rest here.

In my Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism course today, we’ll be talking about the history of slavery and segregation in American Christianity.

It’s the ugly underbelly we can’t ignore, but so often would rather pass over quickly.

Many of (white) American Christianity’s great “heroes of the faith” defended slavery on “biblical” and theological grounds–as God’s punishment for sin or the outworking of a divinely ordained and divinely sanctioned hierarchy.

Some argued that slavery is necessary for a robust economy, which is necessary for the propagation of the “gospel”–but which “gospel” is that, again? A number of them owned slaves themselves (Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, for two prominent examples).

Even many years after the Emancipation Proclamation and in the decades following the Civil War, some theologians and denominational leaders vigorously defended white supremacy and segregation, and refused to grant equal rights to freed slaves and others, simply because of the color of their skin.

Jack Rogers, in Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, details a disturbing and eye-opening description of the way that the Bible was used to defend slavery and to uphold white supremacy in the years preceding and even following the Civil War.

Southern Baptists Condemn White Supremacy

The members of the Southern Baptist Convention are meeting the week of June 13th for their annual meeting.  One of the most controversial resolutions had the title, “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy.”  Now, one would think that a resolution calling for the Church not to support such things as white supremacy would pass without opposition, but this is the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that was founded in 1845 over the issue of slavery, which they supported and defended.

The resolution was originally submitted by Texas Pastor Dwight McKissic and had to pass through the resolutions committee.  The rules of the Convention state that all resolutions must go through the committee and they had decided on Tuesday that they would not move the resolution forward to be voted on by the entire Convention.

In an interview on Wednesday morning, Resolutions Committee chairman, Barrett Duke stated;

“We were very aware that on this issue, feelings rightly run high regarding alt-right ideology. We share those feelings … We just weren’t certain we could craft a resolution that would enable us to measure our strong convictions with the grace of love, which we’re also commended by Jesus to incorporate.”

I believe Jesus would be pretty succinct in his opposition to racism.

Can we all at least agree that racism, no matter what you call it, goes against the message of Gospel and that we might stand united in defeating it wherever it rears its ugly head?  Apparently, that is still up for debate.

On Wednesday, June 14th, the Convention passed, what I believe to be, a much weaker resolution but they did take a stand in denouncing racism and white supremacy.

Below are links to the original resolution as submitted by Pastor McKissic and the one passed by the Convention.  Judge for yourself.

Original Draft

Adopted Resolution

A Prayer for Memorial Day

Prayer for Memorial Day

Lord God of Hosts, in whom our fathers trusted and found their faith rewarded by thy gracious care, bless us today as we commemorate their valor and their sacrifice. We thank thee for the brave men who in the time of conflict were ready to lay down their lives if need be in the cause of liberty and righteousness. We thank thee for what they did and suffered on our behalf, in unflinching loyalty to this union of free states, in order that popular self-government might not perish from the earth. Unite all the people of this great nation in a holy purpose to defend the principles of freedom and brotherhood for which they lived and died. Help us to emulate the loyalty of these heroic men. And may the nation, which they helped to establish on an enduring foundation, be ever true to the great ideals of the founders, and gain increasing prosperity as it offers to all beneath its flag justice and equal rights. Purge the land from its evils, and fill it with the spirit of Christ. Make it a mighty factor in changing the whole world into a kingdom of heaven; and we will praise thee evermore. Amen.

The Book of Church Services, National Council of Congregational Churches, 1922

Spirit of Witness

A Sermon on 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

 

This weekend we call to mind the memory of the men and women who have fought to secure our freedoms.  From the first shots fired on Lexington Green to the soldiers, sailors, and Marines on the front lines today.  They fought and fight to secure the most cherished freedoms that we have including the freedom to worship as we each see fit.  Freedom of religion, or the freedom to worship and practice our religion, not forcing someone else to believe the way we believe, is counted among the first of our freedoms.

But this was not always the case. In 1620 a group of people, who were decenters from what would be called the Church of England, left Leyden England for the New World.  They wanted to worship in a much simpler style, a style they believed the early church practiced.  They felt that the reforms of the Church of England did not go far enough.  They had been separated and even jailed by the government for their beliefs.  So they left England and sailed to what would be called the Plymouth Colony.

Not long after, more would follow, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony would be established North of Plymouth.  Freedom to worship, or worship the way the leaders of the Colony wanted you to worship, was part of the laws of the new Colony.  In 1638 a young girl named Anne Hutchinson would come up against this freedom.  Anne’s father has a minister, and she had learned theology at her home with her father.  Anne had a strong belief, and so she started preaching and soon crowds were gathering at her home.

Word had spread about Anne, and there was a rumor that she was criticizing the Puritan ministers in town.  She was arrested and brought before the Governor, John Winthrop.  She was charged with preaching against the teaching of the established Church.  You see Anne was a woman, and women were not allowed to preach.  She was exiled to Providence Rhode Island and in after she moved to what is now New York, she and her children were killed in an Indian Raid in 1643.  When Governor Winthrop heard about her death, he said that it was justification that she had displeased God.  There is a statue of Anne on the grounds of the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.

None of us sitting here today will face the same kind of persecution that our ancestors in the faith had to endure nor will we face the same sort of persecution as Christians in other parts of the world.  We all traveled here today without any difficulty.  No one shot at us, the doors of the Church were open when we arrived.  No one has told me what I can or cannot preach about when I stand here.  No one is going to be arrested if they have a different belief than the person sitting next to them.  So what is the relevance of this passage of Scripture that we heard read today from the First Letter of Peter?

We have to turn to the 9th verse of the 5th chapter to find the answer:

Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

Whether referring to persecution or to the more common distresses and frustrations we all feel every day, the point is that as Christians we are not flying solo.  The Christian faith is not individualistic, it is not just about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we are part of the one body of Christ, and although a personal relationship is important, we are part of a much larger family when we make the decision to become followers of Christ.

Today’s text, especially the 9th verse of Chapter 5, reminds us that as Christians we are part of the whole and we do not exist only for our needs.  This awareness is critical, dare I say essential, to our ability to relate to others and the troubles they face.  If we understand ourselves as part of the whole, and not just on an island all alone, then we will be able to achieve solidarity and common ground, and understanding with others not only as part of the Christian family but in the context of the world family.  We cannot save our prayers and concern only for those of the Christian faith, but we must show care and concern for people of all faiths and seek to protect their right to worship as much as we strive to protect ours.

The further we separate ourselves from others the less we can engage the world in Christ-like love, the very essence of which is love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I mentioned before the disaster chaplain training that I attended.  One of the roles of the chaplain in an emergency situation is to be the liaison between the elements of the government and the religious institutions in the affected area.  Houses of worship are usually the largest buildings in town and usually, for the most part, survive the disaster.  There is also a built-in network of communication.  We have the ability to establish contact with church members in a variety of ways, and if we have an already established relationship, we know the vulnerable populations in the place we live.

The disaster chaplain is called upon to be that bridge between the government and the houses of worship because we speak the same language.  It is amazing to me how fast the things we disagree on seem to disappear when we are talking about the restoration of essential services like food, clothing, and shelter.  We work with everyone and support everyone regardless of the house they chose, or not chose, to worship in.

But what of our relationships with others, people right here in our community and by that I mean the person sitting next to you.  All of us are at a different place in our faith journey.  All of us are in a different place when it comes to our understanding of Scripture and how that should be applied to our lives.  If I actually care for the one sitting next to me, then I need to meet them where they are and love them no matter what they believe.  During his earthly ministry, Jesus met people where they were and just loved them as they were.

When Jesus would meet with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, beggars, all of the dregs of society, he was chastised by the church leaders of the day.  Someone like Jesus should not meet with folks like that.  He was breaking down the cultural norms of his day to bring the love and acceptance that they so desperately needed.  All of those people had been shunned by the church, and along comes Jesus who held out his hand and said: “I love you as you are, come, follow me.”  It was a simple message that would transform their lives.  No screaming, no legislation to force them to follow him, just a simple invitation from a simple man.

We are in troubling times for sure as people of faith argue over all sorts of issues.  As I mentioned already, we are all in a different place on our journey and as much as we might disagree with the person sitting next to us, or the person standing here before you, it is an imperative that the differences we have and that exists between Christians, not be allowed to sever the connectionaltiy that we have and that this text we heard today urges us never to abandon.

A Civil War Veteran Speaks about Confederate Monuments

Over the last few weeks, many opinions have been voiced about the removal of monuments and statutes to many Confederates in New Orleans and other Southern Cities.  Emotions run high as each side of the issue tries to make their point.  Cries of “liberal madness” and “we are denying history” as well as “we are sanitizing history” have risen.  But what did the veterans of the Civil have to say about monuments being raised up in the south to their former enemies?

In the December 29, 1887 issue of the National Tribune, the weekly newspaper of the veterans’ organization the Grand Army of the Republic, a writer known only as E. N. N. writes a letter to the editor with the title, “Plain Language.”  I have included a link to the entire article, but I have excerpted several paragraphs below.

“Becoming more bold, the ex-rebels began to raise monuments, in the form of names of hotels, places of business, etc., in honor of those who had been prominent as leaders in the rebellion. This being permitted, they next raised monuments of stone to those ‘heroes.’ No one objecting, except feebly, occasionally, they began to demand that those who fought to preserve the Nation must not do anything or say anything that could remind the rebels that they had been defeated, lest it hurt their tender feelings.”

“If this Nation is to be permanent, treason must be made odious! Traitors must not be permitted to live in the United States. As soon as one does or says anything against the Union, he should be expelled from the Nation. Every monument, sign or token raised, printed or painted in honor of treason and rebellion, or of any traitor, must be utterly destroyed, or we cannot feel safe or secure.”

“Old veterans of the South, you fought well, and surrendered as brave men. You now claim fealty to the Union; then let yours be the hands to gently remove those monuments and hide them where mortal eyes will never see them again. There is no necessity for you to grovel in the dust and say you were wrong when you were fighting to destroy the Nation—no necessity for you to condemn your leaders—no reason why you should not continue to have Reunions; but, if you really care for the perpetuation of this Republic, destroy as early as possible every trace of anything that in the faintest degree is in honor of rebellion.”

“We who fought for and against the Nation are the ones to make the Union perfect. You who wore the gray, do your duty as citizens of this Republic; destroy the idols raised in honor of rebellion or disunion, and join hands with us in the purification and perpetuation of our home—the United States of America.”

Emotions will continue to run high on this issue, but I thought it was important to hear the words of someone who fought to preserve the Union and how they felt about the monuments being erected.

Special thanks to my friend Jerome Kowalski for tipping me off about this article.

The National Tribune, December 29, 1887, Page 2

That Quintessential Word of Life: Hope

A Sermon Preached by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Rt. Rev. Dr. Derek Browning

The following sermon was preached by the Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday, May 21, 2017.  The text the sermon was based upon is Genesis 9:1-17; Acts 17:22-31.  Rev. Dr. Browning uses this text to present a sermon on the theme of hope, not just for those assembled but for the world.  Special thanks to Jane Bristow, Communications Assistant of the Media Centre of the Church of Scotland, for providing the text of the sermon.

 

 

Word of Life – Hope

Genesis 9:1-17; Acts 17:22-31

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.[i]

 

Emily Dickinson’s poem captures something of the fragility and persistence of that quintessential Word of Life: hope. In the gale, in the storm, in the chilliest land and on the strangest sea, hope, like a tiny bird perches in the distraught soul, singing the wordless song of hope, singing without ceasing.

That is surely what hope is. Fragile, but never, ever giving up. Fragile but resilient. Hope tells us that God does not give up; God does not let go. God finds different ways in different times to stir God’s people and make them question and wonder and think and disagree and act.

By the eve of All Saints, 1517, Martin Luther was ready to act. His unease with many of the practices of the medieval Roman Catholic Church had grown over years. Frederick the Wise of Saxony, a man of simple and sincere piety, had devoted his lifetime to making Wittenberg the Rome of Germany, a depository of sacred relics. He had a tooth of St Jerome, four pieces of St Augustine, four hairs of the Virgin Mary and three pieces of her cloak. He had a piece of Christ’s swaddling clothes, one wisp of straw from the manger, one of the nails from the crucifixion, a piece of the bread from the Last Supper and, with a prophetic nod to the Church of Scotland emblem, a twig of Moses’ burning bush. “Those who viewed these relics on the designated day and made the stipulated contributions might receive from the pope indulgences for the reduction of purgatory, either for themselves or for others….These were the treasures made available on the day of All Saints.”[ii]

We have our relics too. Somewhere in 121 George Street there is an umbrella reputed to belong to Thomas Chalmers. Students at St Andrews University at graduation are capped by the Chancellor with a piece of cloth said to have been taken from the breeches of John Knox. Edinburgh has something similar. Knox was a man with an extensive wardrobe apparently.

Luther acted, and reacted, and the Christian world has been reacting and reacting ever since that event when Luther reportedly posted his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. I’d wondered about re-enacting the scene this morning, but nailing Ninety Five copies of the Blue Book to the glass doors of St Giles seemed a little too daunting.

The creation story of the flood ends not in destruction but in hope, and the rainbow is a sign of God’s hope. The Noah story is about despair and hope. It is a parable of condemnation and redemption; of rejection and welcome. God’s judgement is overridden, the floods abate, and a hopeful creation emerges out of the chaos and judgement. Hope comes.”[iii]

Humanity is often without hope. Hope depends entirely on a move from God. God resolves to stay with, endure and sustain our world, notwithstanding our brokenness. God takes as God’s ultimate vocation not judgement but affirmation.

God makes an irreversible commitment and says, “Never again”. On this basis the rainbow sign is established. The bow is a promise. If the bow is remotely a weapon, it is an undrawn bow. God will never again be provoked to use the weapon of total destruction against humanity. The arc of the bow is rooted in the earth but reaches up to heaven, connecting us in a bridge of mercy, and grace, and hope. The God Who is revealed here remains willing to accept hurt to keep hope alive. Hope will never be cut off because of us; hope continues despite us.

Just along the River Forth a new bridge is being built. Faith and love, through hope, are in the business of connecting worlds. We are in the business of building bridges of hope, not walls of exclusion and judgement and separation. If our churches need walls and roofs and foundations, let them also have doors and windows that can be opened. Let them have tables where people can be welcomed and fed, and stories of sadness and joy, fear and hope be shared.

Hope for the poor, hope for the rich, hope for the squeezed middle, hope for the Syrian and Palestinian, hope for the Jew and the Muslim, hope for the Unionist and Nationalist. Hope for the young man contemplating suicide because he cannot accept himself for who he is. Hope for the mother whose perinatal depression has robbed her of the joy of her new-born child.

What does the body of Christ look like in the light of the rainbow? What would it mean for our Church, every Church, to put God’s rainbow at the hopeful heart of all that we say and think and do?

I was in the Assembly Hall a few months ago recording the voice-over for the 360 degree photography project for Mission and Discipleship. I noticed in the Lord High Commissioner’s Gallery the stained glass window behind the throne. It has three parts: on its left an image of the nativity scene; on its right an image of the body of Jesus being loaded into the tomb by Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus. In the middle is Christ in majesty, with the Judgement Book open upon His knees; but He is seated on a rainbow. There is a rainbow of hope in the heart of the General Assembly Hall.

We could do with a few more rainbows in the Church. Jesus might want you for a sunbeam but I suspect He is rather partial to rainbows too. The rainbow is a symbol of hope; a symbol of our remembering God. It is a central message of God’s love and hope to us and to all God’s children. It is a challenge to those who make decisions in General Assembly, and Westminster, and Holyrood, and White House and Kremlin. It is a challenge in Damascus and Jerusalem. It is a challenge in Brexit and Indy2. We need to debate our future, but we must create it in hope.

In the days ahead in our General Assembly, and beyond them in the General Election, hope will remain an inconvenient challenge. Each one of us has our agenda; each one of us has our world-view, and our blind-spot. If God’s rainbow of hope is set within our hearts and homes, our Hall and Church, our community and country, it will be a profound challenge. We may be broken up or we may be broken down because of our prejudice and ignorance and partisanship and unwillingness to collaborate, and our swiftness to judge.

The Church needs to become a porous community within our nation. Through our sometime brokenness, from our porous Church, with its open windows and doors, the light and the rainbow of hope will arc out into the world. Our hope is to become an example of what is possible when people agree that wealth and poverty, age and gender, race and sexuality, strength of faith and strength of doubt are not barriers but bridges; not storm clouds of judgement but rainbows of hope.

Hope is not the fluffy option; a wistful, hand-wringing exercise for the incurably unrealistic. There is a cancer alive in our world today. It can be heard in the voices of those who feel they have been ignored. It can be seen in the faces of those who no longer find a place at the table, in public life and in church life. It can be seen in some aspects of populism that see a vote as a protest without considering the consequences. It can be seen in the rise of extremism which is filling the spiritual and ethical places of life where some educational and political philosophies have spent so much time defining what they are not and what they are against, and failing to make clear what they are, and what they are for. It is heard in fake news and alternative facts; aren’t they what we used to call lies and deceit? All these, and more, are there to be seen and heard in our often bleak world. We should be coming in – with our message, God’s Word of Life that is Hope.

The world is in transition, it always is. We are not watching its collapse but its recreation. The Church is in transition, it always is. An American colleague has said the Church is not dying; it is reforming. John Cleese said in the film Clockwise: ‘It’s not despair I mind; it is hope I can’t stand.’ Hope challenges our fatalism, which is why it is so unsettling.[iv]

Paul, preaching in the Areopagus in Athens, seeing the altar to the unknown god, tells the crowd of the God He knows, revealed in Jesus, making all people one nation, who also seek after God, “in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him. Yet He is not far from each one of us.”

Hope, a Word of Life. As Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi wrote, “All I know is that the greatest achievement in life is to have been, for one person, even for a moment, an agent of hope.”[v]

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

[i] Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems, p116

[ii] Roland Bainton, Here I stand: Martin Luther p71

[iii] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, p80

[iv] ibid p23

[v] Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World, p270

Louisiana Governor Landrieu on the Removal of the Confederate Monuments

Just hours before the statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from its tall pedestal in New Orleans, Governor Mitch Landrieu gave a speech outlining the reasons why the Lee statue, and others, was removed from the landscape of New Orleans.  Governor Landrieu traces the history of these monuments and the reason they were erected in the first place and he reminded us that New Orleans has no monuments to the role it played in the slave trade.

I would encourage you to read the entire speech but here is an excerpt (emphasis is mine):

But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other.

So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

Read the rest here

May 21, 1863: Organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Battle Creek, Michigan

The Seventh Day Adventist Church was officially organized on May 21, 1863 in Battle Creek Michigan with 3,500 members.  Today the church consists of more than 20 million members in more than 81,000 churches.

The official teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination are expressed in its 28 Fundamental Beliefs. This statement of beliefs was originally adopted by the General Conference in 1980, with an additional belief (number 11) being added in 2005

Seventh Day Adventist doctrine resembles Trinitarian Protestant theology, with premillennial and Arminian emphases. Adventists uphold teachings such as the infallibility of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection of the dead and justification by faith alone, and are therefore often considered evangelical. They believe in baptism by immersion and creation in six literal days.

The Church in the Public Square

A recent Executive Order signed by President Trump attempted to roll back the way churches, and church ministers, involve them in the public square.  The Johnson Amendment states that if I, as a minister, endorse a particular candidate or a particular political party, I am in violation of the tax-exempt status afforded to my church by the government of the United States.

In my almost 15 years of ministry, I have never endorsed a candidate by name or a political party, nor do I believe that is the place of the church to do so. However, I do believe that the church has a role, and responsibility, to shape policy and the discussion in the public square and that my friends, does not violate anything.

There is a difference between politics and partisanship, the Gospel was, and is, very political.  The church has a voice that needs to be heard in the public square, but that voice does not include the endorsing of candidates.

Over on the Ethics Daily Blog, Pastor Matt Sapp of the Heritage Fellowship in Canton, Georgia asks this very same question about the role of the church in the public square.  Here is a little excerpt from the article.

But a larger question remains: What is the appropriate way for churches and religious leaders to engage the political process? What’s the mission of the church when it comes to engaging and influencing government and public policy?

My answer: We are to be prophetic witnesses to what a world governed by kingdom principles looks like.

The prophetic mission of the church is to call the world to a new and higher standard of justice – a standard not of fairness, but of generosity.

The prophetic mission of God’s people extends back thousands of years. Isaiah’s challenge to lawmakers is 2,700 years old: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Isaiah 10:1-2).

It has been the mission of God’s people to sound the call to justice at least since then.

Read the Rest Here