Friday, September 11, 2009

With Malice Towards None, With Charity For All

Editor's Note:

Half of this was recycled from yesterday's post, because I wanted to make a greater spiritual point that I couldn't do in a strictly political context.

Thanks for your patience,



Listening to President Obama's speech two nights ago, I have to say that I complete concur with his decision to frame the health care debate in terms of morality, ethics, and common decency to one's fellow person. Policy matters, nuts and bolts wonkery, and smear debunking are important and necessary things, but what cuts beyond ideological gridlock is the common humanity inherent in caring for those of us who do not have the material advantages we often take for granted. My hope is, as it always is, that the elected representatives whose job it is to provide basic health services for those in dire need of it will not forget that their greater purpose goes beyond polling data, popularity contests, and leapfrogging over others in order to achieve greater influence within the Congress.

I can't help thinking about those now-ancient days of seven months ago or more. Many Progressives thought they were getting Lincoln 2.0 based on a combination of Obama's eloquence and his desire to shape an inner circle and cabinet of disparate, sometimes discordant voices. What we neglected to understand is that if, in fact, our new President was cut from the same Lincoln cloth, then we would have him for both the high points and low points of a term. Had there been such things as Gallup polls and approval ratings then, I daresay Lincoln would have been subject at times to several dips and sharply declining numbers, particularly when the Union lost key battles in succession and war seemed inclined to drag on ceaselessly. One musn't forget that the first two years of the Civil War were full of one demoralizing Union defeat after another, only remedied when the President finally found a general willing to engage the Confederacy directly in battle, rather then resorting to a harm-reduction timidity that characterized the military strategy of a score of previous commanders.

In President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, the war very now nearly won, though the outcome still largely uncertain, he made light of a passage of scripture from the Gospel of Matthew. I have chosen to present it in more modern day language so that its fullest meaning would not be misunderstood. Specifically, the verse is is Matthew 18:7.

How terrible it will be for the world due to its temptations to sin! Temptations to sin are bound to happen, but how terrible it will be for that person who causes someone to sin!

But if we expand outward and look deeper into Matthew 18, we can observe Jesus making an even more important point. As the chapter begins, the disciples have been pettily quibbling about precisely who is going to be the most powerful and influential in the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Exasperated, I imagine, Jesus calls to him a small child and informs the disciples that no one will reach the Kingdom unless he/she becomes like a child in the process. This request is sometimes misunderstood. The behavior Jesus demands from us is not childish, which is what has characterized the attitudes and opinions of many people over the course of this debate, but rather childlike, which requires open-hearts, sincerity, contrition, and humility.

How easy it is for us to become so preoccupied with the organization of our earthly Kingdom. In so doing, we lose sight of its divine purpose, which is well beyond us and well beyond our short lives. We lose perspective very quickly and begin squabbling for power and promotions within the Kingdom. At that point, we are no longer able to identify with the "little children"---the weak and the dependent who have little to no status, nor much influence. We are warned tersely that if we lead these little children astray by corrupting them with temptation, neglecting them and demeaning them, and teaching them false doctrine, we will be punished harshly. Thus, God's love is for everyone and our focus ought to be on our unselfish mission to serve others rather than our selfish concerns. Jesus meant this message to apply to laypeople, religious leaders, churchgoers, politicians, and everyone.

Still referring to Matthew 18:17, Lincoln qualifies the passage in the context of a war being fought over the original sin of slavery.

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?

Woe be unto us if we lose our faith in the midst of the struggle. Any struggle this full of acrimony, bitterness, and strife is bound to drive us apart and test our faith, not just in God, not just in human nature, but also in government. Though the ultimate resolution of this health care debate is still some ways away, let us seek to learn from the lesson of Lincoln and not allow matters this important to cause us to lose our faith. In the unceasing back and forth it is easy to become just as jaded as we were before the past Presidential election. No cause worth fighting for is easy or simple or even often reaches a satisfactory conclusion, but knowing even that, we should not allow the reality of the situation to compromise our dreams and hopes. Too often we treat our own faith as an insurance policy, to be turned to only in periods of crisis. Our faith ought to sustain us in good times, as well as trying times. We have heard the call to action. We know well the identity of those who oppose us. Let us renew our faith for now and for forever.

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