Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.Abraham Lincoln
With these words, President Abraham Lincoln started the speech that many consider the most eloquent summation of the underlying moral struggle that led to this country’s Civil War. Speaking of the struggle that cost the nation 620,000 lives, the President wrote …
… we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
In a mere 275 words, President Lincoln brought America’s abiding and original sin into stark relief, and his words still echo down the centuries and speak to the ideological tension that remains with us today. The question Lincoln posed has no permanent answer but must be answered in every generation: Will people of all races, all genders, all sexual orientations, all languages, all cultures, and all walks of life be able to enjoy the benefits of the self-evident truths espoused in the Declaration of Independence, which states “ … all men are created equal [and] … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Lincoln concluded …
… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
What happened today at the United States Capitol — the mob violence that vandalized the revered halls of the physical symbol of our nation’s democratic institutions, that drove the members of Congress from the people’s work, that led to injury and the loss of a life — was an abysmal sight. I was appalled. I hope you were also shocked.
That’s when Lincoln’s words came back to me. As a result of this day, I pray that all Americans will be awakened:
- to the perils of demagoguery and polarization;
- to the cancer that grows when civility, mutual respect, and the right to express one’s opinions are lost or threatened;
- to the extreme danger of unchecked lies and reckless misinformation;
- to the sin that arises when one group seeks to hold superiority of place and power and to exercise dominance over the lives of others.
So, I join with Lincoln. I make his words my own. I pray that we Americans might, “under God, have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”