Our rhetorical Civil War

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
—Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, 1861

So it was then, March, 4, 1861, that Lincoln uttered these words to a struggling, soon-to-be-divided United States. We hear these words 151 years later knowing that they are all too familiar. While we may not be on the brink of another physical separation, our collective identity lives in a rhetorical civil war with all-too-real consequences.

During the past 12 years we have faced remarkable difficulties. From 9-11 to economic collapse our bodies and our heads still hang low. On both the Right and Left we have found in each other enemies, not allies. Indeed—we think it much more productive to stand against one another rather than stand with one another. At every turn we have found it easier to deny the other, to deny the ideas and identities that stand against our own rather than see them as opportunities for growth and change.

In the throes of another election year we have already seen, and will continue to see, demonization. If you’re a liberal, then you must want to take the money from all the rich; indeed, you must be a socialist. If you’re a conservative, then you’re a greedy, ignorant, and selfish person, at least according to much of the liberal mainstream.

In the morning, however, when we look in the mirror do we label ourselves as “liberal” or “conservatives?” Do those words embody who we are as people?

Is not the father working two jobs to sustain his children more than a political pawn? Is not the young college graduate seeking employment more than bumper-sticker-politics? Are we not more than a label handed down to us from on high?

To keep our right minds we need political identifiers. Like tribes, we need to know where people “encamp.” Yet to know where someone “lives” does not mean we know their life. We have allowed our differences to become reasons to hate and disparage the other, all the while pharisaically carrying our moral heads high.

There can be no great dream, no more perfect union, and no transformative country as long as we dupe ourselves into vilifying the “opposition.”

I’m not sure when our public discourse became cheap and shoddy, or who fired the first shot in this rhetorical Civil War. When Lincoln uttered those words he sounded hope and urging toward the common good. Alas, those words would not be enough, and neither will these. It will take bold and daring action to support and stand up, not for labels, but for our humanity.

Within the religious world there remains much dissention and disagreement. Our task should not be a struggle to push aside these disagreements, but rather to live into them. In the end our beliefs remain embodied with histories and stories. They reflect struggles and success, and they reveal a common humanity.

I am a Liberal, but that’s not all I am. I am one who respects the identity of humanity, regardless of creed, gender, sexuality, nationality, or race. If we are to form a more perfect union we must be willing to see that the building blocks are present, and they are our citizens—always has been; always will be.

Zachary Bailes

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About the Author
Bailes holds a Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is the Editor of Crazy Liberals and Conservatives, a website dedicated to engaging the intersection of faith and public life.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=616107223 Carrie Cullen

    Um, in describing the author underneath the article (–which I am in agreeement, by the way), I think the letter L was left out of the word public… just sayin’

  • http://www.facebook.com/larry.geer1 Larry Geer

    Gerry thank you for posting the article, we have the same views except I am a moderate Republican. It is all of the currput and greedy polititians (no matter what country they represent) that have created the mess that the world is in now. We are all children of this universe and seems as though politics screw it all up for the majority.
    Hope all is well, miss all of the smiling faces in Sint Maarten, but plan on coming back this Spring. My best to you and yours.

    Larry C. Geer

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.crockett1 Matthew Crockett

    I think one of the biggest problems we have right now is how often people’s views of whichever group they see as the “other” are defined on the basis of what every member of that group Must Be rather than the individual measure of what they are. Liberals and Conservatives have different ideas on many things but that doesn’t make either an Enemy to be fought. As a democratic country we have a system that specifically defends the right of everyone to believe and think as they wish. Our greatness as a country has been built on harnessing our differences and pooling our strengths to face our nation’s challenges.