I have been watching the re-run of Ken Burns’ extremely well done series on the Civil War, one of the darkest times in our country’s history. So many people died, that it amazes me we were able to survive as a country beyond it. One of the interesting points from watching the series is how devout the military leaders and enlisted men were and how both sides knew God was on their side guiding their victory. Their faith is all these embattled men had during this time of violence and mayhem.
Their faith got me thinking about the strident belief that the US began and is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles and God is truly on our side, the side of right and might. As a Christian believer, I have noted in an earlier post my position that “God is not an American.” I wanted to use the sensational title to say what should be a basic belief. God is bigger than America and it is an insult to other nations to believe we have the keys to the kingdom and know God’s infinite mind and mercy more than other nations. Yet, let me take this Civil War concept a bit further to illustrate this key point.
If we do have a divinely inspired nation back when Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington helped craft our independence and set our governance in motion, then when our country split apart in the Civil War, which side curried God’s favor the most? Being born and raised in the South, I am well aware the percentage of Evangelical Christians is larger than in other places. Where I live, there is a church on many corners and sometimes two at an intersection. With that as context, the ancestors of these folks would likely have been devout as well. So, with great certainty, these southern ancestors would firmly believe God was on their side.
Yet, if you look across the battle lines, you have people who were fighting to end slavery. In my biblical interpretations, God was not too keen on slavery and sanctioned Moses to get the Egyptian pharaoh to release the Jewish slaves. My guess is God probably did not change His mind by the time of 1861. If I digress, He probably was not too keen on slavery being included in our constitution or the three-fifths a person rule for each slave to give southern states better national voting power. Focusing on the Civil War, though, if God were American, He clearly would have been on the side of the Union meaning all the Confederates were fighting an uphill battle against God. And, I have not even entered the voice of the slaves, as I am sure they were praying God was on the Union side.
So, back to my larger point from my earlier post which will save face for the ancestors of some southern Evangelicals. God is not an American – he is bigger than we are. The prayer that would have best been heard during the Civil War would be “Dear God, please end this horrible conflict, so that the awful killing can stop.” That is a prayer that members of both sides probably did make. This was a terrible tragedy that needlessly killed multiple hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.
Yes, we were basically founded as a nation by great, but imperfect Christian men. Jefferson was actually a Deist, which means he supported the wind-up-the-clock belief in God. In other words, God set this world in motion, but let’s us live our lives. Yet, our founding fathers were born to people who left religious persecution or left themselves. So, when they spoke of the separation of church and state, they did it with purpose. Religion can be a wonderful thing, but when married with governance has produced more tragedy and killing than any other belief system. Our founding fathers knew that, so they wanted to separate the two in our construct.
Our country has many Christian ideals in its foundation. Yet, in every great religion, there are similarities to basic themes of justice, fairness and treating others well. The greatness of America is we can celebrate many religions here. It does not make one religion better than another. In fact, we have so many versions of Christianity, these different sects each lay claim to being the “one true” religion. Is a Catholic better than a Baptist? Is a Southern Baptist better than a non-southern Baptist? Is an Evangelical Lutheran better than a non-evangelical one? In my simple way of thinking, we need to stop being divisive and be more inclusive. Worship together, celebrate together and do good deeds together. Don’t segregate people into different “we/ they” columns. To be honest with you, that takes too much work and is tiresome. It is also wrong. Religions are at their finest when they include. They are at their worst when they exclude.
God is on all our sides, even the SOBs that don’t deserve His love. Maybe in His eyes, they need it more than anyone else. I was intending on writing this before the terrible tragedy in Wisconsin, as I don’t know the motivation of the killer. I am hoping the Sikh group was not targeted. If it turns out to be the case, we all need to pray for two things – first, the victims and their families which should be done irrespective of why, but second, for ourselves to stop these senseless we/ they categorizations. We are Americans – the Muslims, the Jews, the Christians, the Sikhs, the Buddhists, the Agnostics, the Atheists, etc. We should not condone and speak out against group hate. And, even if a group was not American, killing people in the name of a religion is wrong. God has said so much.