Last year, I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Il. While I have studied a great deal about Lincoln, I found myself really taken back about the struggles which Lincoln, a simple country lawyer from Illinois, faced immediately after taking office on March 4, 1861. From a country deeply divided over slavery to the lack of opportunities faced by Americans, Lincoln’s presidency was focused primarily on keeping our country unified as the framework for our American democracy began to unravel.
It’s been suggested by many people that our country is as equally divided now as it was prior to the Civil War. While I don’t believe our country is as divided as it was in 1861, what we are experiencing now is a familiarity to what many Americans faced over 150 years ago following a brutal presidential election and an overall distrust in our country’s governance.
Division has been a theme before in our country’s history just as it has been a theme in scripture and in the early church.
In the Old Testament following the death of King Solomon, Rehoboam, the son of Solomon came to rule. Rehoboam, who spoke very severely to his people, threatened to chastise them—even more so than his father had done. Additionally, his rule caused a large sect of the Israelite community to rise up against him causing the community to be divided into two; which came to be Judah and Israel.
In the New Testament, the division between peoples was a continued theme after the establishment of the early church. And throughout the history of the Protestantism in America, divisions have led to there being thousands of different churches based on different theologies and different interpretations of scripture.
Today in the United States, concern over the ongoing social injustices and inequalities American are dealing with right now is the cause faith communities and civic organizations must dedicate themselves to addressing. But what is also needed in our country is an effort to provide spaces and opportunities for Americans to find reconciliation through healing and listening. And the first step in this process is for us to take time and listen to one another despite our differentiating political views.
“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones is not about pretending that things are other than they are,” says Desmond Tutu. “It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end, it is worthwhile because, in the end, only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”
For us as Christians, we are called to find reconciliation with our sisters and brothers who make up the body of Christ. And for us as Americans, rather than having divisive arguments on Facebook or over the dinner table with our family members, we are called to find healing and reconciliation with our fellow Americans no matter how they vote or what their political beliefs may be.
“I appeal to you,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.