The Christmas Spirit: Divided by Politics or United by God? 12/20/2012
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation…” Matthew 12:25
The presidential election is over and Barack Obama has been re-elected. Many of us are happy and filled with energy. Many of us are sad and dispirited. All of us, however, suffer from this painful truth: we are a deeply divided nation. Our nation is frozen in gridlock between opposed views of governing. One side wants larger government, whereas the other side wants smaller government. Democrats and Republicans are not communicating with each other. The tragedy is that no one listens. To listen is an act of love that requires an open heart. Politicians are not rewarded for listening; they are rewarded for enacting legislation and regulations that favor their supporters. Partisanship wins at the expense of compromise and coming together. Executive orders replace legislation. The nation loses. Abraham Lincoln wisely said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The tentacles of our political division are long and costly. Families are deeply divided. Members frequently cannot talk to one another. Cut offs based on politics are rife. Dialogue between the generations is often cautious and limited for fear of triggering a cut off or even an extrusion. Parents cannot talk with their children and their grandchildren. Friendships are being sacrificed in the name of politics. People who once regarded each other as good friends have stopped talking.
A tragedy of disconnection has taken hold of our nation. People don’t dare speak a word about politics for fear of starting a war. We walk on eggs and limit our relationships. We fail to see the value gained from the clarifying our viewpoints. We abort the learning that comes from exchanging differing ideas. Instead, we define those who differ from us politically as “the enemy.”
There is little chance for a political solution to our division. Politics is about winning power and using it to rule by imposing your ideology and values. In better times there was a spirit of compromise, a recognition that bipartisan laws would be more respected. With ideology currently paramount, there is little chance that either side is going to modify their opinions and beliefs. Politicians base their success on the degree to which their side wins or the other side loses in the battle to legislate. Our judiciary has become just as politicized as the congress. Our Founding Fathers were concerned about the overreach of the judiciary, and we can understand why when our lives are so deeply controlled by the decisions of our Supreme Court. The vote of one unelected judge can determine the health care system for our entire nation.
How do we repair this deep division? I believe it must come through spirit and through God. God is love. Politics is power. Politics divides us, whereas God unites us. The Pledge of Allegiance, which we used to recite daily as school children, reaffirmed our values: “…one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” This is the unity as a nation that we have lost. We have slighted our traditions and the valuable rituals that in our past brought us together. The pledge, like our Constitution, arose from our Judeo- Christian heritage. We are now paying the price for having belittled the principles that arose from our roots, like being united under God in whom we trust.
The simple truth is that when government is large God is small. Look at Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela—all have big governments some of which have even outlawed religions. Look, too, at Europe in which socialistic governments are expanding and religion is diminishing. Look at us in America with our continually expanding government for the last twenty years under both Republicans and Democrats. The result today is that 20% of Americans have no religion.
Christ taught us: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Our nation was founded by the Pilgrims who sought the religious liberty they did not experience under the monarchy in England. Our Founding Fathers drafted a Constitution dedicated to a small government and a large God. They purposely limited the powers of the government in order to preserve the freedom of the individual and the people.
Religious freedom was protected by the first amendment in the Bill of Rights. The church and the state were to be kept separate to protect the government from establishing religion as happened in England. This separation has been used in recent years to diminish religion at the hands of the government. As a consequence the government and politics have become our religion. We define the tribe to which we belong through our allegiance to a political party and we fight over our political allegiances the way people used to fight over religions. We encourage intolerance rather than tolerance. We promote the shaming and belittling of those who disagree with us rather than respecting their right to have differences.
The history of wars fought over religious allegiances dates back to the founding of Christianity from Judaism under Roman rule and later with the Crusades. Spirituality was put second to the politics in religion. Religion based war turned people away from belonging to and practicing a religion. Battles over the “right way” to worship God within religions have alienated people from joining religions. A similar disaffection is currently taking place politically for young Americans. They feel alienated from politics because the political parties are at war and cannot find a way to resolve their differences in order to govern our nation.
Our best hope for coming together as a nation is to embrace our heritage and our spiritual roots. “Thou shall put no other Gods before me,” is the first of the Ten Commandments. When we put God first in our priorities we understand that our allegiance to God comes before politics and political parties. We need to be clear that the government is not God, and that regarding politicians and the government as God, or as all-powerful, disrespects God and twists our priorities. This is not to say that government and politics are not important in our lives, but it is to say that their importance needs to be kept in perspective.
Under God we are free to reach out to one another and to work together cooperatively. Under God we respect others as we want to be respected. Under God we want for others what we want for ourselves and we act accordingly. Under God we know there is not just one way to worship God and that each individual has the right to worship God in his or her own way. We know that God promotes love not fear, peace not war. God does not divide us but unites us.
Every spiritual and religious person needs to make the choice to bring America together rather than allow our differences to keep us divided. Love conquers all. The ultimate challenge is to love where you are not loved–which requires patience and persistence.
My wife and I personally experienced this love and caring in our Christian community as she was recovering from illnesses and we moved to a new neighborhood. Christ said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” We saw the fruits that our fellow parishioners showed us regardless of our political differences, and we are grateful for their caring and love. As a nation we have experienced the power of this spirit and generosity during catastrophes like the attack of 9/11 and the hurricane Katrina. Our nation came together to help one another. America is the embodiment of the Christmas spirit.
We are currently facing the challenge of being a divided nation like we were at the time of the Civil War. We have not been so close to splitting for years. By embracing our common values we can put God first and unify this country.
America is the most generous nation in the history of the world. We need to trust our generosity. We need to trust love and not believe in fear. Caesar works from the outside in using fear and force. Embracing faith we need to let go and let God. It is a matter of letting things happen not making them happen. God works from the inside out.
We need to trust the eternal laws of God like the one that says: we reap what we sow. We unite when we treat one another with respect regardless of our differences. We need to make our tent large enough to include even those who see things differently. We need to commit ourselves to work together to help others as we want to be helped. We need to love calmly and persistently in the face of not being loved.
The time for a new Awakening is now. The time to change America for our children and grandchildren is now. The time to be bold by putting God first is now. Each of us must act now. Every movement that has changed our nation began with a few good individuals. This is nor the time to leave advocating for God and love and uniting to someone else. This is the time to stand up and be bold. This is the time to share our Chistmas spirit.
God bless each and every one of you and God bless America!