Saturday, August 1, 2020

Musings on Echoes from 1860 as America Seeks Truth and Reconciliation

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Truth and reconciliation are in short supply as America approaches its second most important election.  The most important was 160 years ago when Abraham Lincoln was elected president.  The nation was in turmoil and the church divided on the issue of slavery.  Lincoln won the electoral college with 180 to 123 votes, but only received 38.9% of the popular vote.
In 2016 Trump won the electoral college with the support of most white Christians, but he lost the popular vote.   Then as now America’s politics were polarized by race and conflicting concepts of political sovereignty.  In 1860 Lincoln opposed popular sovereignty, and eliminating the electoral college today will not reconcile our contentious divisions.

Religion and politics are interwoven.  Religions are the primary source of a nation’s standards of political legitimacy, and in America Christian morality has shaped those standards.  Fake news continues to distort America’s polarized partisan politics.  The church must promote truth and reconciliation to restore political legitimacy in our dysfunctional democracy.  

The church was split on the issue of slavery in 1860 when Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union with a Civil War.  Today Trump has intervened with federal forces in major cities with the pretext of protecting federal property.  The church lost its moral compass by failing to condemn slavery in 1860, and again in 2016 when a majority of white Christians elected Trump.

For the church to find its moral compass and promote truth and reconciliation it must resurrect the moral teachings of Jesus as God’s truth in both faith and politics.  Those altruistic and universal teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including our neighbors of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.
Echoes of 1860 reverberate as racist violence once again threatens America’s democracy.  The political turmoil is exacerbated by an unprecedented economic meltdown caused by the pandemic, with the Federal Reserve increasing dangerous disparities in wealth by subsidizing the stock market, making investors richer while the rest of America suffers.

Trump has proven to be a master at orchestrating divisive political issues to mobilize his constituency, and it’s yet to be seen whether Joe Biden can effectively counter Trump’s caustic politics with a campaign for truth and reconciliation.  Democrats are not known for a centrist politics of reconciliation, but that’s what it will take for Biden to defeat Trump this November.

Most Americans claim to be Christians.  If they rediscover the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus on God’s truth and promote a politics of reconciliation, they can be moral stewards of democracy and counter the divisive politics that threaten the demise of American democracy--but they only have three months to get their act together.      


Seeking truth and reconciliation is taken from truth and reconciliation commissions that are “official bodies tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government (or, depending on the circumstances, non-state actors also), in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past.“ See,left%20over%20from%20the%20past.

On Abraham Lincoln and the politics leading up to the 1860 presidential election, see

The Electoral College is a body of electors established by the United States Constitution, which forms every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president of the United States. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors, and an absolute majority of at least 270 electoral votes is required to win the election. According to Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution, each state legislature determines the manner by which its state's electors are chosen. The number of each state's electors is equal to the sum of the state's membership in the Senate and House of Representatives; currently there are 100 senators and 435 representatives. Additionally, the Twenty-third Amendment, ratified in 1961, provides that the District of Columbia (D.C.) is entitled to the same number of electors as the least populated state (presently three). U.S. territories are not entitled to any electors.  See

For most Christians. God’s truth has evolved with reason and advances in knowledge; but Christian  fundamentalists have resisted change with their belief that scripture is the inerrant and infallible source of God’s truth.  While the Enlightenment debunked many religious beliefs with advances in knowledge, God’s spiritual power and truth remain beyond human knowledge. See What Is Truth? at

The current political turbulence threatening the fabric of American democracy is reminiscent of that leading up to the Civil War.  Some Black Lives Matter protests have turned violent.  “Protests explode across the country; police declare riots in Seattle, Portland.  In Seattle, police said protesters set fire to a construction site for a juvenile detention facility. In Portland, protesters broached a federal courthouse.”  
See also, Police Officers Pepper Spray Protesters in Seattle; Protesters clashed with the police in Seattle as thousands marched in the streets in solidarity with protesters in Portland, Ore.

Across the country, “conservative armed civilians have surged into public view, marching on statehouses, challenging Black Lives Matter protests, chasing Internet rumors, and bringing the threat of lethal force to local politics.”  They support Trump’s deployment of federal forces and reject being called militias, but they have brought new fears of escalating violence to protests across America.  See

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