America Is Split Today

Published in Mustard Seed Sentinal on August 24, 2019

America is split today—nearly rivaling the separation of our Civil War. In fact, famous journalist Carl Bernstein describes the American state of discord as a “cold civil war.” Figurative battle lines are drawn. America’s conversation with herself has become a shouting match—much like a nasty divorce. Two ideologies vie for hearts and minds. We seem to be a far cry from the days of our founding. But those days were marked with shouting too.

Developing a Constitution unlike anything the world had ever seen before involved shouting, a lot of shouting. It was a battle that Eric Metaxas calls “vicious”. But ultimately, the Constitution came to be because the founders shared the common ground of “faith, virtue, and liberty.”

Before the Constitution, settlers arrived on these shores looking for the liberty to practice faith and virtue. America was where exiles came to escape persecution for rejecting established doctrines. Yet the country was a picture of separation.

Pennsylvania’s founder was a Quaker. Maryland’s congregations were Catholic. Georgia hosted Brethren communities. This nation was founded upon religious freedom, but that meant freedom in specific places for specific denominations. It was freedom for some but not for all.

The first Christian Orthodox convert in Colonial America was Philip Ludwell III, a grandson of the first governor of the Carolinas and a cousin to Martha Washington. Ludwell received permission from the Holy Synod in Russia to worship with Anglicans in Virginia since there was no Orthodox priest on the continent and because at the time “apart from the Province of Pennsylvania, all religions but Protestantism [were] banned.”Christians of various traditions came, seeking refuge, opportunity, and freedom. Some, especially Catholics, found yet more persecution.

Even so, the large continent favored diverse belief within Christendom. And as Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “We must hang together; else we shall most assuredly hang separately.” A clear understanding of a greater enemy—the tyranny of Great Britain—unified these men.

Arguments rage on today as to who of the founders were truly Christians and to what degree they affirmed their faith, but, they “were nearly unanimous concerning biblical morality.” Almost all were self-described Christians.

Most were Protestant; Charles Carroll, delegate from Maryland, was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence.

The signers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. And signing the document proved very costly for most of them. Carroll, the richest of the signers, had much material wealth to lose, but in a different sense, he had more to gain.

Originally founded as a Catholic refuge, Maryland’s population eventually became predominantly Protestant, and the Protestant majority disenfranchised Maryland Catholics. In an independent and more religiously tolerant America, Maryland Catholics would enjoy equal standing as citizens and be free from a state established Protestant church.

The mix of men who fashioned the moral foundation for the most exceptional nation in history ensured true freedom of religion. Foundational to the city on a hill America would become—the haven that still draws the “huddled masses, yearning to be free”—the Great Awakening produced a flood of social movements such as William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery efforts in England and later endeavors in America.

In the late 1700s, Wilberforce was a young, ambitious member of the British Parliament when he committed his life to Christ. Because of him, “Even though slavery continues to exist here and there, the idea that it is good is dead” (Metaxas, Amazing Grace). We cannot adequately appreciate how much the anti-slavery effort in England altered the mindset of the world.

In Amazing Grace, his biography of Wilberforce, Metaxas reminds us not to romanticize the past and view slavery in that time as some sort of aberration—that the times were “particularly brutal, decadent, violent, and vulgar. Slavery was the worst of a host of societal evils that included epidemic alcoholism, child prostitution, [and] child labor,” among others.

It sounds a bit like our world today.

In Wilberforce’s time, slavery provided jobs and income to port cities. Much of the British economy relied on the trade. Uprooting this ingrained evil would be arduous and take years.

Just as the First Great Awakening produced an America ripe to be free from British control, the second one produced an America where ownership of human beings was no longer the law of the land. But the change the Second Great Awakening produced did not end with the issue of slavery.

Other reforms from that period produced in both England and America included many causes that Wilberforce and his contemporaries in Great Britain and America championed: child labor laws, workplace protections for employees, prison reform, and laws to prohibit abortion.

It was the Second Great Awakening that prompted America to outlaw abortion in the first place.

Efforts to end slavery in England and America were interdenominational. These social revolutions weren’t the result of savvy political strategy. They came from the living Christian faith of these awakened people.

Their love for their neighbors spawned the laws they produced. The laws reflected their culture.

Two hundred and forty years ago, a Congress of men assembled, yelled at each other, and crafted a Constitution unimaginable through history.

America is divided today, but in a different way from the way we were divided when we began.

Our law reflects our culture too. In some places, like Alabama, legislators and governors pull out all stops to protect the unborn. In other states like New York, the unborn (and sometimes the already born) are inconveniences to be disregarded and discarded.

Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade (and Doe v. Bolton, Roe’s companion case) did not take into account any regional disagreements over the sanctity of unborn life. Just as Obergefell v. Hodges disregarded the views of those who hold that marriage by definition must involve one man and one woman.

Western Civilization has rounded the bend toward decline before. Awakening came and the people returned to God. Reprieves come. But faithlessness returns. And we have no guarantees that reprieve will come again. How to pray?

That people would return to God.

That our faithfulness would manifest itself in love for each other, love for our enemies, and love for our perceived enemies–those who disagree with us, those who are different from us. That we would reject presumption, assumption, and pride.

That we would embrace gratitude and reject entitlement.

That believers would dismiss our petty differences and come together in accord and love for Christ, His Church, and those in need.

That we would be people of integrity, seeking peace, justice, and freedom for all.

That we would deserve leaders with integrity who pursue peace, justice, and freedom for all.

That we would seek God and find our purpose in serving Him. That we would reject pleasure for pleasure’s sake. And seek the kind of happiness that comes from showing kindness and generosity.

That family members would each seek good for the other and not just themselves. And that through seeking good for others, they might find a truer good themselves. A better good.

That neighbors would love neighbors. Overlook faults. Meet needs. Encourage each other.

Rejoice with those who rejoice. And mourn with those who mourn.

That communities would remember history. That they would mourn the bad and celebrate the good. Yet remember it all. For in forgetting, the bad comes once again.

And that nations would honor God. That they would care for their weakest members and call the strong to duty and responsibility.

Let’s pray that we shine light. That we honor God in all our dealings. That we do what he asked.

Love Him, love our neighbors, and make disciples.

Photo Credit: Samuel Branch

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Chance or the Dance: A Review

“The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything. Thomas Howard~

Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism by Thomas Howard
is a book for those searching for meaning in life–for an alternative to the secular view that we are here by chance and live without lasting significance.

It is also a book for those of us who already believe in God. We know His presence. And we see His work in the world around us. We ponder His ways and see in them the meaning that infuses every moment of our lives. 

Howard explains this way of looking at the world:

“It is a way of looking at things that goes farther than saying this is like that: it says that both this and that are instances of the way things are. The sun pours energy into the earth and the man pours energy into the woman because that is how fruit begins–by the union of one thing and the other” (Howard’s emphasis).

Howard points out that, in spite of the world’s acceptance of the new myth, deep within ourselves, the old myth lives on. It is part of us–and we can only pretend to deny it. 

Everything has meaning.

Howard analyzes our partiality for poetry and art, the rhythms and patterns of language and image. The new myth presents a common experience in “order and harmony and serenity, and hence joy [as] a most rewarding fiction” without meaning. The old myth presents the “supreme reality: the way things are.” And that way is full of meaning.

We act out the old myth through a ceremony of meals that we mark by setting the table and arranging the food on the plate in an orderly way.

And we embrace freedom, which is more than “mere self-determination . . . [which would be] tragically limiting.” “Your freedom in the Dance is to be able to execute your steps with power and grace, not to decide what you feel like doing.”

Howard’s book is a delight. It was originally published in 1969–at the height of the sexual revolution. Yet it comes to us in this second edition with a foreword by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas read the book as a new Christian in 1988 and calls it “a kind of prose symphony” and a “rambling yet manicured and sweeping lawn” full of things “you will simply never forget.” 

It’s a book you’ll want to read slowly–to savor the ideas–since such beauty is not to be rushed–as in fruit taken too soon from a vine. 

And through your savoring, may you come to the Dance–to the idea that all we do has meaning now and into eternity.

“In this view, there is no hiatus between what we are given to do in life and what life is ‘really about.’ There . . . a synonymity. All this commonplace stuff is what life is really about.”

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Hank Hanegraaff's Distortionist Critics

“While there are many secondary issues genuine believers will continue to debate this side of eternity, I have and will always champion what C.S. Lewis called mere Christianity. ‘In essentials unity, non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.'”  Hank Hanegraaff
Hank Hanegraaff recently joined the Greek Orthodox Church. His change of congregation has caused a great gasp in some corners of evangelical Christianity. A voice of evangelicalism through a syndicated apologetics radio program, Hanegraaff and his wife on Palm Sunday were accepted into the Greek Orthodox Church.
He’s walked away from Christianity! He’s gone from grace to works! That’s the view many have of anyone who moves from evangelicalism to a liturgical tradition–especially to Catholicism or Orthodoxy.
But lately, many have changed pews, some, like Hanegraaf, moving from evangelical to liturgical and others from liturgical traditions to under the steeples of evangelicalism.
My two favorite authors illustrate this point. Eric Metaxas came to evangelical Christianity from Greek Orthodoxy. And Rod Dreher came to Eastern Orthodoxy from Methodism.
Now Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, has followed Dreher’s route–to Orthodoxy. And some are horrified. Continue reading “Hank Hanegraaff's Distortionist Critics”

Mother Teresa and the Hunger for More than Food

Repost from October 2015–a tribute to Mother Teresa.
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it. Ezekiel 16: 49-50.
When I teach students to write, I always tell them to save the most important point for last. In Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness, Eric Metaxas saved the most profound story for the end of his book, the story of Mother Teresa.
I don’t remember where I was when I learned about the death of Mother Teresa even though she died on the same day in 1997 that Princess Diana died. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember. It seems odd now because Mother Teresa was one of the most iconic figures of the second half of the twentieth century.
I knew that she ministered in Calcutta, India, that she lived a modest life of self-sacrifice. That’s who she was in a nutshell, but she was so much more as Metaxas points out. Continue reading “Mother Teresa and the Hunger for More than Food”

BLOGPOST: American Martyrs on American Soil

“My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility my uncle says.” Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
My copy of Voice of the Martyrs arrived the other day. The magazine features stories of people who are persecuted because of their Christian faith. This month’s cover photo was of a woman standing in front of a refugee tent. When we think of Christian martyrs, that’s how we imagine them. They are people in far off lands, as if they were from a different time, even from some other planet. Continue reading “BLOGPOST: American Martyrs on American Soil”

BLOGPOST: Seven Women, an Aviatrix, and the Amish

A couple weeks ago, I was flipping channels and came across an old movie, Pancho Barnes, starring Valerie Bertinelli as the title character. Pancho was a bored wife and mother who found her passion in flying airplanes. She wanted to do something only men and Amelia Earhart did at the time.
But she had to defy convention and her husband to do it. He was holding her back. She wanted to soar. They couldn’t have it both ways. Continue reading “BLOGPOST: Seven Women, an Aviatrix, and the Amish”