Oct. 23, 2020
Long, too long America
By Walt Whitman
Long, too long America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn'd from joys and prosperity only,
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,
And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are,
(For who except myself has yet conceiv'd what your children en-masse really are?)
Whitman wrote this poem during the ultimate crisis that faces any nation: civil war. Lives were upturned and severed by a polarization that completely demonized people of different perspectives and experiences. People were uprooted from homes, suffered with and from disease, government corruption and bigotry, and faced financial uncertainty.
A time not unlike the one we are facing in 2020.
The poem begins by reminding Americans of the great happiness and prosperity that had been inherited by Whitman’s generation. Then he adds the word “but,” turning to the issues of his day. He ends by calling the nation to be courageous, and not recoil or turn away from the founding principles and character that formed this nation which we hold "under God." He is calling forth what Abraham Lincoln also appealed to in his inaugural address, “the better angels of our nature.”
As the election approaches we must remember and heed Lincoln’s words about our nature and hold “malice toward none,” especially those with whom we disagree the most. We must also, as Episcopalians, turn to our God-given foundations of scripture, tradition and reason in addressing our common civic life.
Faith demands that we engage in this difficult and divisive time. We bring all that we are to our faith, and all of our faith to every other aspect of life. We do so in the election process because in our baptism vows we commit to strive for justice and respect the dignity of every human being, within and beyond the church.
In his Sept. 16, 2020, letter, “A Word to the Church,” the presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, wrote the following:
“This November the people of the United States will elect a President and many others to public office. This election occurs in a time of a global pandemic. There is hardship, sickness, suffering and death in our midst. But this election also occurs in a time of great divisions among us that are deep, dangerous and potentially injurious to democracy. So what is the role of the church in this context of an election? What can we do as individuals who have dedicated our lives to follow Jesus Christ and his way of love? ...
“We can vote and help others to register and get to the polls to cast their vote. We can encourage others to vote as their conscience leads them. Now I know someone is asking, what does voting have to do with what Jesus did?
“An election for public office is not a popularity contest between two or more people. It is a contest of ideas about how to shape the future of a community, nation and maybe even a world. It is a contest, a debate, a discernment of moral values and public policy that seeks to live out those values in society.
“Voting is an act of moral agency. It is an act of moral discernment and decision. It is how a community or a nation decides the moral values and the public policies it will live by.
“This is so important that people have been willing to sacrifice their lives for it, winning the right to vote or to maintain the right to vote. If you don’t believe me ask the people of Belarus, even as we speak. Ask America’s martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the right of all to vote.
“Ask Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. Ask the Selma martyrs, Viola Liuzzo, Jimmie Lee Jackson and Jonathan Daniels.
“Ask America’s soldiers who gave their lives, or live with wounds in the cause of defending human freedom, and the right to vote is one of those freedoms. The vote is an act of moral agency.
“John Lewis in his last published writing before his death said, ‘The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.’
“There is in the New Testament an example of St. Paul doing this ...
“Paul did identify how the teachings of Jesus were precedent for how he would live his life as a follower of Jesus Christ and as a citizen of the empire. In the 13th chapter of Romans he speaks about the role of government. And he then speaks of the role of the follower of Jesus living in any civil society or in Christian community:
"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet'; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13: 8-10)
“The royal law of love is the fulfillment of the law and the will of God. It is the ultimate standard, norm and guide for following the way of Jesus in any society or any time.
“With grace to aid, and conscience to guide, each of us must discern and decide what love of neighbor would have us to do, not only in our personal lives, but in our social and political lives.”
The Gospel of Jesus is a gospel of love, forgiveness, justice and reconciliation with God and each other. No matter what party affiliation, or choice of candidates, God invites us to be reconciled with each other, now and when the election results are made known.
We invite you to join with other Episcopalians and people of faith in the Braver Angels project by visiting www.braverangels.org. There you will find suggestions, information and activities on bridging the division in this society now, before the election, and afterward. Consider taking the pledge “With Malice Toward None” which is also on that website. Pray for each other and for this country, attend vigils that churches will be holding, including our Cathedral Church of St. Paul with partnering congregations (details are available here), and seek to love beyond our differences.
God’s grace will aid us to look beyond ourselves to what is truthful, just and good for all. Above all, turn and live in love in this moment as Jesus bids us: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates