|Daniel Kostakis is on the left of Annie Watson, Ryan Cox is on the right.|
Last weekend Jimmy and I were in Springfield, Illinois for a wedding, the old stomping grounds for Abraham Lincoln. After reading the Gospel text for today I was reminded, of course, of Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech, a speech he gave upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as their United States senator.
The “House Divided” speech became the launching point for his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate seat held by Stephen Douglas. This campaign climaxed with the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, which later became the philosophy he would follow as President of the United States.
Specifically, the debates were about the dangers of slavery. Lincoln argued that slavery was producing a disunited country. In his famous “House Divided” speech, he said:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”
Lincoln preferred that slavery be eliminated, and yet his main argument was that the country as a whole needed to make up its mind: either eradicate slavery altogether, or practice it nationwide, because “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Obviously, Lincoln is quoting Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
The truly interesting thing about that quote, and the fact that Lincoln applies it to our house, the United States of America, is that Jesus is talking about Satan’s house or kingdom. People were accusing Jesus of being in league with “Beelzebul,” which means “Lord of the Flies,” and is just another name for the devil.
Some of the religious leaders suggested Jesus was using the power of the devil to cast out demons. In response to that, Jesus wisely said, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
The principle is true, and yet we should keep in mind that Jesus was applying this principle to Satan. I wonder if Abraham Lincoln knew that . . .
Regardless, Lincoln certainly understood his role as a president, which was to get everyone on the same page. He fought a war in order to get us all on the same page (although I would argue that many people, particularly in the South, are still not on the same page!).
Divisiveness is a fact of life. It is all around us. War is the ultimate expression or outcome of human divisiveness. At any given moment there are numerous wars occurring all over this planet. You would think that humanity has fought so many wars that we could just declare a winner and be done with it, sort of like a Monopoly winner who wins everything.
The truth is, in the long run, there are no winners in war, only losers. Jeannette Rankin, the first American woman elected to congress in 1916 and again in 1940, said, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” Whether that’s true or not, war is too often a consequence of human division.
As Lincoln discovered, we don’t have to go outside of our borders to find division. We call ourselves the “United” States of America, and yet I wonder if we should change our name to the “Disunited” States of America.
Has there ever been as much polarization in this country as there is now, particularly in the political realm? Is there really that much difference between us? Is the worldview of the two major political parties in America as far apart as our politicians seem to argue? If so, Lincoln’s words should concern us greatly.
We are first hand witnesses of divisiveness in the Catholic Church, are we not? The Church is divided between those who favor inclusion and equality, and those who favor exclusion and inequality. The Church is divided between those who favor a male-only celibate clergy and those who favor holy orders for all who receive God’s call, no matter one’s gender, sexual orientation, or marital status.
The Church is also divided between those who practice a closed table and those who practice an open table. This just scratches the surface of a divided Church. As we continue to debate and argue about these things, Lincoln’s words should concern us greatly.
Divisiveness is a fact of life. According to our Gospel reading, Jesus’ family were trying to restrain him because they thought he had lost his mind. In almost every family I have ever known, I have seen dysfunction, which is a word that implies family division.
There is also division within ourselves, as noted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16. He writes, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” It’s almost like we, as individuals, are heading in two different directions.
Our outer nature, our minds and bodies, are aging, which is a nice way of saying they are diminishing or dying every day. Our inner nature, our spiritual essence, on the other hand, should be improving as we get older.
Although the Apostle Paul doesn’t spell this out, I believe this simple notion of a daily renewed inner nature is the key to overcoming human division. When I see divisiveness on any level, I suggest that the underlying problem is spiritual.