Have you been to Gettysburg? Like Omaha beach in Normandy, it’s a place that every American should visit if they have the chance. But if you do visit those places, you need a knowledgeable guide. In France, our guide was a man who grew up in Normandy and who knew more about the invasion than anyone I have ever met. At Gettysburg, our guide was our younger son who has done a lot of study about the terrible battle that took place there. The battlefield is huge and as we drove around, he told us things that had happened in various places. In the battle of Gettysburg, 51,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded. Of course, back then, to be wounded could be a death sentence since there were no antibiotics and sterile surgery was non-existent.
After visiting Omaha beach, we went to the American cemetery in Normandy. We ended our visit to Gettysburg at the cemetery there. The Normandy Invasion is a lot closer to us in time. People still remember relatives who fought and died there. The sorrow that came out of that awful battle lives in many families. The same was true for thousands of families after Gettysburg. In both the north and the south, the sorrow lasted a long time. So many sons and fathers and brothers, never came home. Those Gold Star Gettysburg families are long gone now. It won’t be long before families who suffered losses in Normandy are gone too. Then all of it will become coldly academic or romantic, the stuff of historians and novelists, the way we view the Gettysburg horror today. The personal anguish will be gone.
It is easy for some people today to write off all southern soldiers as evil, racist traitors.
That’s not so easy for me. My great-grandfather was at Gettysburg. He was a young officer in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He didn’t participate in the battle because he had been wounded in a previous battle. If he had fought at Gettysburg, there is a good chance that I might not be here. Most of the soldiers in the Confederate Army were not slave owners. Owning slaves was expensive. But my great-grandfather had grown up on a plantation. Slave ownership among my Virginia ancestors goes back a long way. Slavery was one of the greatest curses that could ever have come to America. The evils of it are almost endless. We still live with them today. Personally, it is a blight on my family’s history. Was my great-grandfather an evil man? I don‘t know. He died 30 years before I was born. Whatever he was, I think there was repentance. I’ve visited his grave. On his stone are the words, “A sinner saved by grace.”
When you visit the Gettysburg cemetery you are standing where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech. It was given to dedicate a last resting place for Union soldiers who died in that battle. Right after it was given, the speech was vilified. It wasn’t like the bloated oratory of the times. Not until much later did people realize it was one of the greatest speeches of history. Do you remember it? If it’s been awhile, let me refresh your memory.
Abraham Lincoln stood in front of a large crowd and said these few, simple words:
“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.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — 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.”
As we stand in the Gettysburg cemetery a question comes to mind.
Why were the soldiers of the Union Army willing to fight and die? Why was Abraham Lincoln willing to expend so much to fight the Civil War? I’m sure the first answer that comes to mind is that they wanted to free the slaves. That would be an excellent reason and eventually during the war it became “a” reason, but it wasn’t the primary reason. Sadly, many of the Union soldiers were just as racist as the Confederates. The view of the federal government toward the slaves became clear at the end of the war. When it was over, the government in Washington did nothing to help the many thousands of African-Americans who had been freed. Many were promised help that never came. Instead, cruelly, they were simply cut loose to make it or not on their own. So what was all of that bloody horror about? The primary reason that Lincoln fought the war was to maintain the unity of the nation. It’s very clear from the speech that Lincoln gave at Gettysburg. With all his heart, he believed that if the war were lost America would be lost and that government “of the people, by the people and for the people” would perish from the earth.
There is something strange about that. If the south had won the war, basically the same system of government that had existed when the country was undivided would have been in place in both new nations. Clearly, Lincoln believed that without national unity, the dream that was America could not endure. He must have viewed the establishment of the nation as a marriage. If there were a divorce, both parties would continue on, but it would never be the same again. Everything that marriage stood for would be weakened to the point of death. The light of freedom that America was bringing to the entire world would be quenched. If the war were lost, it would prove that people could not rule themselves. It would be prove that, eventually, any such effort would blow apart in chaos. To keep that from happening, Lincoln was willing to give his own life and the lives of many thousands.
Abraham Lincoln was not a stupid man.
After Lee surrendered at Appomattox, the President understood that national unity would not be achieved simply by winning the war. 650,000 men had been killed and 1.5 million had been casualties. General Sherman had marched through Georgia destroying everything in his path. Hate and rage filled the land. There was a burning desire for retribution. Lincoln desperately desired unity and he knew that achieving it would call for forgiveness and reconciliation. It would take time and many very specific strategies. Most of all, the President would have to show great moral courage and leadership.
When a bullet entered Lincoln’s brain, he was 56 years old. In a single explosion of horror, all hope for unity and national healing perished. America has experienced many satanic acts, but the murder of Lincoln has had the longest and darkest repercussions of them all. Much like the Presidents of today, the men who followed him into the Presidency were incapable of the leadership necessary to bind up wounds and heal a broken land.
So, another interesting question: Has America been “unified” since Lincoln’s death? Well, we have been unified for periods of time mostly due to “national projects” such as the “taming” of the “wild west.” All of that land opening for settlement in the years after the war released some of the pressure in the national cooker. Many families from both the north and the south left to start new lives far away. And, there were other national projects such as wars. For periods of time, patriotism bloomed as we joined together to fight common enemies. Also, terrible times such as the Great Depression brought a kind of unity in suffering. Or maybe we were just too distracted, exhausted and beaten-down to spew hate at each other. I have come to believe that the ocean of hate that boiled up before the Civil War has never died. Like the tide, it goes out only to return. And now it is returning as a tsunami.
There are those who argue that what unified us in the past were “shared values.”
I know of only one value that we have shared as a nation from the very beginning. And it isn’t the love of freedom. This value is shared by both the left and the right today, by people of every race, by the poor and the rich, by the powerful and powerless. That value is the love of money and the prosperity, or at least the hope of prosperity, that it brings. The “American Dream” is to have money and be successful. Now let me be clear, it is one thing to view money as a necessary evil that can be used for bad or good. It is quite another thing to love it, lust after it and worship it. How do we do that? By viewing money as the ultimate proof of success. And that is exactly how we view it in America today, from major corporations to churches to labor unions and far beyond. We worship the idea of “financial security.” And at every level of society financial failure is proof of failure in all of life. We fawn on the wealthy. We gamble away what money we have on lotteries and in casinos. We go into debt with credit cards pretending that we have money that isn’t ours at all and literally paying dearly for our pretense. The love of money gets people elected to the highest offices and keeps them there. The love of money assures that the national debt grows ever higher.
For all of these reasons and more it is entirely rational to say that the love of money is the only shared value in America today.
Have there been other, more noble, values that motivated the lives of many Americans? Of course. Thankfully, during periods of great stress and trial we have had leaders who called us to a more righteous unity in order to achieve higher purposes, leaders such as FDR. In every case, such leaders were people of deep compassion who themselves had suffered greatly and through that suffering had been transformed.
William Shirer in his classic work, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” tells a tiny story about Roosevelt that I absolutely love. In the middle of the war, the President became deeply and personally concerned for the Soviet Ambassador. Why? Being a communist, the man was an atheist. FDR summoned him to the Oval Office and spent two hours sharing Jesus Christ with him. Can you imagine either Barack Obama or Donald Trump, these “Christian” presidents, doing that today? My father, who was a very conservative man both politically and theologically, told me that when FDR passed away, he cried. The nation cried. A great unifying leader had left us. The nation cried after Lincoln was murdered too. Now we have a President who is incapable of communicating an ounce of compassion, who cannot motivate anyone to more noble values because the only value he shares with the American people is the worship of money. And that worship is from hell.
When a nation worships a false god, what will happen?
The personality of that false god will become the guiding value of that nation. The heart value of America is greed. Greed is expressed in fear, selfishness, mercilessness, hate, rage and, ultimately, violence. In a nation that worships money there will never be peace, because prosperity is always fleeting. And the people who have no money will lust after the possessions of those who have it. This has been the story of humanity since the beginning, but no nation has been so blessed with wealth as America. A semblance of unity was maintained because the wealth was shared, never with total fairness, but with more equity than in most other nations. Now, step by step, that is passing away. The middle-class are becoming poor and the poor are deeply impoverished. Fear is growing and that breeds mindless rage.
As the thin veneer of American unity vanishes, it is no surprise that an evil beast born before the Civil War, is rising from hell with new and terrible power. In America, racial hate is an easy choice. Many white Americans view black Americans as barely civilized animals and many black Americans view white Americans as the spawn of Satan. But consider this: If you gave all of these haters of every race who want to battle each other, plenty of money I think most would be happy to live in peace. Until the money was gone.
As I write this, the shrieking rage is about Confederate statues, with many people wanting them removed and many others wanting them to stay. Now, let me be clear. If it would bring racial peace and national unity, I would be happy to see every Confederate statue destroyed. Being the great-grandson of slave owners, I have been blessed with many wonderful, African-American friends. I want nothing for them but joy and freedom. I want for them to never live a moment in fear, to find peace and prosperity, to know God and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ so that we can be brothers and sisters forever. I want them to enter old age surrounded by so many grandchildren they can’t hold them all in their arms. I want the same for my children and everyone in America.
I want the America that was Abraham Lincoln’s dream.
But this is not to be. Tearing down every statue in the land will not remove the darkness from our hearts. To have the future that Lincoln wanted for America, we would need to do things that will never be done. We would need to enter into a period of national mourning and repentance – mourning and repentance for our greed and worship of money, mourning and repentance for the murder of untold millions of unborn children who weren’t even given the freedom to leave the womb alive, mourning and repentance for racial hate by citizens of every color, mourning and repentance for a false patriotism that has become nothing but idolatry, mourning and repentance for lust and sexual perversion that has corrupted our youngest children, mourning and repentance for false religion that justifies the sin, but not the sinner, mourning and repentance for our hate, rage and thirst for retribution, mourning and repentance for our mercilessness toward the poor and the suffering stranger, mourning and repentance for our unwillingness to forgive, mourning and repentance for our insatiable love of violence.
Without all of this, the nation is lost.
The first person who should be on his knees in mourning and repentance is the President of the United States. But we have elected a man who sees no need for mourning and repentance for anything he has ever done. Those of you who cast your vote for him, what a curse you have brought upon us. But truly, this President is a fitting representative for all Americans of every color and of both the left and the right, who refuse to take responsibility for their own evil.
What is the future of this country? If you are one of those intellectuals who depend on our “historic institutions” to save us, you have built your house on sand. Truly, you have been blinded by an intellectualized version of the Normalcy Bias. God is not mocked. Eventually, all idols will fall. That includes Mammon. What will happen when it falls in America? Government of the people, by the people and for the people will vanish because we were not worthy of it.
The old southerners used to talk about The Lost Cause. It became a kind of wistful myth. Well, there is a real Lost Cause. The real Lost Cause is Lincoln’s dream of America. I won’t be writing much more about Donald Trump and the sucking national chest wound that he represents. I won’t be writing about Charlottesville or the Charlottesvilles that are yet to come. I won’t be writing about statues. Let the dead bury their dead. Or if destroying statues is not enough, dig up the bodies of all those generals and burn them on the National Mall. There is an ancient tradition of doing that in Western society. Just understand that the fire of self-righteous indignation will grow hotter and hotter until every small flame joins in one great national conflagration.
My concern now is for individuals, those few brave souls who will stand against the violent, hate-filled darkness that spews from every side, who will not fall to the temptation of rage, no matter how righteous it appears. To be merciful and a peacemaker in such a time is very dangerous. These brave people will not save America, but by their courageous witness many people will be saved. The most important preparation for such a witness starts in the heart and becomes an iron will. Do not be afraid to stand apart and pray. And as a Christian, I would tell you this most of all. The greatest darkness will precede the coming of the King. Know Jesus…and be ready.