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.”

Don’t Miss The Extraordinariness of Simple Things

Republished from Mustard Seed Sentinal, July 27, 2019

“If I am to spend my whole life being transformed by the good news of Jesus, I must learn how grand, sweeping truths–doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology–rub against the texture of an average day. How I spend this ordinary day is how I will spend my Christian life.” Tish Harrison Warren

An ordinary day. Do we truly have ordinary days? Or is every day something special? Something God is working through to shape us–to show us His grand, sweeping truths?

About 30-some years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Christopher DeVinck speak. He was an English teacher from New Jersey, a husband and father, a man with pro-life convictions who had lived those convictions. He talked about the extraordinariness of the ordinary. That things we consider ordinary can actually be extraordinary. That the ordinary is more powerful than we realize.

The example he discussed was his brother Oliver whom Christopher said lived the most ordinary of lives. Because of an accident during their mother’s first pregnancy, Oliver was born with serious disabilities.

He would never speak or walk. He lived his entire life at home with his family.

Christopher remembers that their mother would lay Oliver on a sheet in the summer grass while she hung wet laundry on the clothesline. He remembers the extraordinariness of a grasshopper lingering on the sheet.

If we’re not careful, we miss the extraordinariness of simple things that we might not otherwise notice. These things either pass without our notice or stay etched in our brains throughout our lives. We go through our days not knowing what will stick. What will become something we’ll carry with us. What will pass by and become insignificant because it really isn’t important. Or what we fail to carry with us because of our inattentiveness. These ordinary life events can deepen our bonds or they can change the direction of our lives.

For instance:

A few years ago, our house had fleas. They’d lived here before. And in spite of the visiting dog, we concluded that my husband brought them home from his recent camping trip. He was infested. The dog was not.

So I stripped sheets from beds, powdered the house with borax, and sprayed the dog with a mild vinegar and water wash. Three of the beds weren’t made yet. But we could take care of all that after the family gathering. There would be plenty of time when we got back with some grandkids who were staying overnight so we could pick blueberries the next day.

The plan was simple. I’d make the beds. Paul could walk the dog. Bedtime would be later than usual but not unreasonable.

Then the plan changed.

“We have a problem,” Paul said when he returned from the walk. The dog had nosed his way into a bush and got a snout full of skunk spray.

The new plan meant the dog couldn’t come into the house yet. Paul headed to the store to buy tomato juice. I still had to finish making the beds. So I recruited two grandkids–cousins, the two oldest.

“You two watch the dog, but don’t touch him,” I told them. They sat on the creaky porch swing. The only light from stars and the corner street light.

I gathered old towels, a basin of soapy water, and a bucket for the tomato juice. And by the time I finished the beds, Paul was back.

The younger cousins were upstairs in our guestroom/attic getting in some bonus video game time. Paul and the two older cousins were outside washing the dog.

I stood in between, near a window on a stairway, laughter arose from the driveway.

And I remembered another ordinary day that hadn’t gone quite right. We were at our church picnic. The dinner had been the typical cookout fare of chicken and baked beans. And afterward one of the cousins convinced Grandpa Paul to go on the ride that went forward and backward and sideways.

I chuckled at the memory as I stood on the landing between the cousins upstairs and the ones in the driveway with their grandpa and the soggy dog. I spoke to the ones with the dog.

“Remember the time Grandpa threw up at the park?” I had told them then that they would always remember that day. “You’ll always remember this day too.”

It seemed as though nothing had gone right that day, yet all was right that could be. And washing a smelly dog at 11:00 pm was certainly extraordinary.

HEADlines by Nacny E. Head

Credit: Annie Spratt

After the dog dried off and settled down, the lone girl cousin was down the hall between pink sheets with a book and a light. Quiet there already. Later it was quiet upstairs. After the game was off, after an argument over who was hogging the covers, after cousin whispers of adventures past and future.

When all was quiet, our house could not have been more ordinary, nor more extraordinary.

The next day we picked 22 pounds of blueberries. It took two vehicles to carry the cousins and the grandparents. We stopped for ice cream after our work. Grandpa played tag with them in the ice cream stand’s playground. Memories made. Bonds deepened. Lives changed? We may never know.

Every day is a 24-hour period no longer or shorter than any other. A most ordinary thing. But one moment can change all the other moments of life. Here’s an example.

A grownup Christopher DeVinck invited a girlfriend for dinner with his family. After their meal, he asked her if she’d like to watch him feed his brother Oliver.

“No,” was her simple response. He was disappointed but tried not to show it.

On another occasion, he asked a different girl home for dinner. At the end of the meal, he worked up the nerve to ask the same question he’d asked the previous girl: Would you like to watch me feed my brother his dinner?

“Yes,” she said. And after watching for a few minutes, she asked if she could feed Oliver herself.

This girl had cared for her ailing mother. She understood such ministry.

It was an ordinary act of conveying food from a dish to a mouth via a spoon. But it revealed everything Christopher needed to know. He asks us the key question:

“Which girl would you marry?”

Christopher has written articles published in the Wall Street Journal and Reader’s Digest. He was invited to speak at the Vatican. He’s had an extraordinary life to rival that of most writers.

But I would say that the extraordinariness in Christopher’s life came in the everydays that he taught English in New Jersey and then went home to his wife and three children.

Whether life holds fleas and skunks as cousins prepare to pick blueberries or simple dinners at home with parents and siblings, the ordinary pieces of life can become exuberantly important.

The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

About the Author

Author Nancy E. Head was a single mother with five children under the age of 14 when many in the Church came to her aid. Her story illustrates common problems in our society such as the fracturing of families and communities, reflecting a splintering Church. Alienated families and a riven Church cannot minister as effectively to their own members or others until they find accord.

Nancy is the author of Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord. She leads a small group ministering to the needy in her community.

Connect with Nancy on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can read Nancy’s HEADlines column on the 4th Saturday each month here at Mustard Seed Sentinel.

Heading photo credit: Ravi Roshan: Author photo credit: Tammy Wolfe

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.”