Today, American’s will commemorate the 200th birthday of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln ‘s legacy as preserver of the union and expander of human freedom offers America as the best hope for advancing universal human rights and the dignity of all people. Toward the end of the Civil War, Lincoln saw himself and America having a manifest destiny to abolish slavery. He also saw America as a place for born citizens and immigrants to pursue economic advancement. It was, for Lincoln, an extraordinary elevation of national purpose unforeseen at the beginning of the conflict between northern and southern states. Lincoln’s unanticipated legacy became a new birth of freedom in reshaping America. The emancipation of African-Americans affirmed global movements for universal, natural human rights.
In the early part of the 21st century, America is again experiencing the travail of rebirth and re-examination of its national purpose. Now, as in Lincoln ‘s time, African Americans – central to President Obama’s election – are also central to our nation’s destiny and promise. Now, as then, fundamental change in vision, values, and national purpose are essential to our survival. We will either have a national rebirth or a national disintegration. We cannot move forward leaving black and brown, poor children and families behind. Either we renew the promise of America or we will see the demise of America. That’s the choice in 2009.
Perhaps like Obama, Lincoln was not a mainstream or fundamentalist Christian. The 16th president was a convinced Deist who became more convicted over time. Toward the end of the war and Lincoln’s life, the president was convinced that neither he nor any human could claim credit for the unfolding rebirth of freedom from the ashes of the war. What manifested was an apparent divine bias on behalf of the powerless and the oppressed. God intervenes on behalf of righteous causes. The profound statement of Christ opens up opportunities for a renewal of values and national purpose: “The Sabbath was made for Man, and not Man for Sabbath”-Mark 2:27. Profound words, indeed.
The observance of Sabbath is for humankind’s benefit, not the other way around. People need rest, a break from mundane life. People not only need provisions for physical survival, but faith, education, and culture for their souls. We could further say, all law and government is ordained for human benefit, and not the other way around. Sadly, our government at all levels has been essentially bought off to serve the interest of a wealthy class. Even the recent economic bailout saw a further transfer of wealth from the whole to benefit the few. Only a government that is not of, by, and for the people could facilitate such a travesty. In 2009, America is at another crossroad, indeed.
Human beings are not made for government or corporate interest – it’s the other way around. The needs of families must come first again. Leaving no child or family behind must be our moral vision. Then, I believe, even God would help us. That’s the true legacy of Lincoln ‘s America , and it could mean a promising future for us as well.
Last week, President Obama demonstrated proper righteous indignation with continued corporate excess and irresponsibility with bailout funds. Realistically, the president can set the tone, but he cannot save the nation alone. As a believer, I feel only God can do that. The next steps will be increasingly difficult for the new president in that he will eventually have to challenge his own Democratic Party’s tendencies toward excess. We must stimulate the economy and reign in wasteful spending. Fraud, waste, and abuse are sure to follow the windfall of federal dollars. Remember, every dollar of the stimulus package of almost $900 billion is borrowed with interest.
Obama’s term cannot simply mean it’s the Democratic Party’s turn at the public till. The end result of that will be a bankrupt federal government. The people will be left holding the bag while the Republican and Democratic corporate classes escape to their overseas hideaways. Mr. President, stimulate the economy, help the people who need help the most, and watch enemies and friends like a hawk.
The promise of America is in peril. We’ve been here before. We can, with prayerful diligence, overcome. Yes, we can. Happy Birthday, Abraham.
Marshall Hatch is pastor of New Mt. Pilgrim Church