Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.  It is remarkable how much that tragic, brutal, internal conflict within our nation continues to impact our collective consciousness as a people a century and a half later.  Historian Shelby Foote said that you can’t understand the United States unless you understand the Civil War.  I became a huge fan of Foote, with his genteel, Mississippi accent and cadence, through his multiple appearances and observations in Ken Burns’ masterpiece The Civil War, which first aired almost 21 years ago on PBS.  That miniseries opened up my mind and emotions to the realities of Civil War in a way that nothing else has ever done.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Hannah was born on Night 4 of the original 5-night broadcast, but my eyes still moisten with tears every time I hear “Ashokan Farewell” played. 

The Civil War pitted brother against brother and resulted in as many casualties as all other U.S. wars combined.  Three older brothers of my great-great-grandfather, William Garrison Pyles, fought in the Civil War, two of them for the Confederacy and one for the Union.  W.G. was too young to enlist.  I wish that letters survived from those ancestral uncles, but, to my knowledge, they do not.  Apparently, like so many other families divided by the war, they found a way to put their differences aside and reunite once the hostilities had ceased.  

While the War Between the States was a “civil” war in the sense that it was fought among the citizenry of the same country, I have serious concerns about another kind of civil war that is raging in our nation.  It is a cultural and political conflict in which “civility” (respect, courtesy, politeness) has been abandoned both in discourse and behavior among those who are vying for ideological dominance.  My primary concern is not that the general population is behaving this way; the world has always acted like the world, and always will.  However, I am much more disturbed by the fact that an ever-growing number of believers in Jesus are willing to set aside the gentleness and peacefulness of Christ in order to advance a political and/or social agenda. 

Although few Christians have resorted to the kind of tactics utilized by the Westboro Baptist Church (see Legal and Loathsome), multitudes have been mesmerized, inspired, and mobilized by media flame-throwers who thrive on name-calling, fear-mongering, and the demonizing of opponents.  Anyone who shares a different view of things is considered un-American, un-patriotic, and un-Christian.  A lot of heat is generated, but very little light.  Opposing viewpoints cannot be rationally considered and weighed because they cannot be heard above the rudeness, shouting, interruptions, and grandstanding.  Even a national tragedy on the scale of 9/11 only succeeds in unifying America’s citizens for a brief period of time before the partisanship and vitriol return.

As a brother in Jesus was recently in the midst of some good ole Christian “Obama Bashing,” I reminded him that he should at least be praying for our Chief Executive because, after all, Mr. Obama was still his President.  “He’s not my President,” he insisted.  He was neither smiling nor kidding when he said it.  I wonder how many Southerners made the same statement about Abraham Lincoln, even before secession and the shooting started?       

Believers who are so concerned about the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance should give equal consideration as to whether their attitudes, actions, and words are contributing to the removal of “one nation” from the same pledge.

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