By Fady Hanna, Duke Divinity School Intern
This week our nation has again experienced the inevitable results of living with the factions and fears that plague us. Three shootings in three days, right on the heels of the commemoration of our independence as a nation, each shooting horrific and tragic in its own right.
We, as Americans, are witnessing an epoch in our young nation’s lifetime when the fabric of our society is being unwoven from the inside out. Whether it be through differences in race, gender, sexuality, wealth, religion, or political affiliation, our most treasured union is being threatened, forcing us to dig deep to discover what truly unites us. The weight of this moment brings to mind the words of President Lincoln who presided over a different era of national disintegration. He said in Gettysburg at the graves of soldiers:
Fourscore 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, as Americans are once again experiencing great civil unrest. Rage and despair fill our hearts as we witness what has become of our beloved union. The impulse to react is irresistible, but how we react will show our mettle. What will it take for us as Americans to stand together again as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?”
We could look back, just as President Lincoln looked back, to our beginnings. With the Fourth of July as a prelude to the tragic shootings in Minnesota, Baton Rouge, and Dallas, it is appropriate to search for wisdom in our founding document. In Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, representatives from all thirteen colonies endorsed the following declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
The founders of this nation believed in a union established on the fundamental dignity of the humanity shared by its members. It is not our race, color, gender, politics, wealth, or even faith that unites us; rather it is our shared humanity that forms the basis of this American union. We are inevitably and inescapably bound to one another by virtue of our shared humanity, and this bond cannot be severed by geography, culture, or social categories that we may artificially impose on one another. We must embrace this bond.
To overcome the fear and faction of these present days, we must continue to acknowledge this human bond that unites us all, and we must continue to recognize the reality that each of our lives is necessarily linked to the lives of all others. St. Paul reminds us, exhorting both the Gentile and Jewish Christians in ancient Rome, to recognize our shared humanity with love, humility, and reason:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. (Rom. 12:3-5)
In these times of confusion, grief, or rage, we must remember who we are – both in relation to our Creator and in relation to our fellow humans. We must embrace the reality that we are created for one another, to live with one another, and to care for one another, as one united creation.
Now is not the time to rally behind slogans of anger and hatred or to follow those who seek justice through vengeance. In an election year, when some of our civic leaders exhort us with their polarized rhetoric, we must stand firm against the threat of disunion. We must stand with one another as fellow humans, remembering we are all created in God’s image and we are all worthy of the respect and dignity endowed by the Creator. Regardless of the cost, we must stand together…and we must remain standing.