By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The Serenity Prayer tells us to “accept the things we cannot change, but to have the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Jesus told his disciples that what is impossible for man is possible for God (Mark 10:27). The takeaway is that we shouldn’t give up trying to do the right thing, even if it seems difficult or even impossible.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer, and his original version emphasized the courage to change things that must be altered rather than accepting things that seem impossible to change. If promoting partisan reconciliation seems impossible, don’t give up. Stay the course. With God’s help we can reshape the majority in our democracy.
Midterm elections confirmed that partisan politics remain perilously polarized; but Donald Trump’s announcement that he will run again in 2024 creates new partisan possibilities. Just as the Republican Party was born with the implosion of the Whig Party in 1853, an implosion of the GOP in 2024 could provide the possibility for an alternative to America’s polarized parties.
Political tribalism has corrupted America’s democracy, but it’s not beyond redemption. Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired a majority of black and white Christians to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in a politics of white supremacy, it’s possible that a new majority of Americans can emerge to reconcile our racially polarized politics.
Partisan polarization is based on negative racial attitudes that persist in segregated churches; and most churches are racially segregated and aren’t making any effort to reconcile racial issues in their communities. In politics, most white Christians vote Republican while most black Christians vote Democratic--and it appears that never the twain shall meet.
We don’t need to integrate worship services that are unique to black and white cultures, but all churches need to promote standards of political legitimacy summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves. That requires promoting racial reconciliation that provides for the common good.
God’s will is to reconcile and redeem, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics and is winning the popularity contest. While popularity is the measure of success in a democracy, following the teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love has never been popular (See Matthew 7:13-14).
Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him; but to gain popularity most churches have reversed those priorities. Discipleship is based on deeds of love and mercy. While crossing racial and partisan lines can be difficult, it’s not impossible, and James tells us that any faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). Churches should take that to heart.
The Serenity Prayer was written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). Niebuhr did not make a distinction between what he could and could not change. His original prayer was: Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.[3 ]
Niebuhr composed the prayer in 1932–33, and first published it in 1951 in a magazine column. By 1955, it was being called the Serenity Prayer in publications of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Today it’s commonly quoted as:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
See Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer.
In exploring the role of religion in addressing the hatred in tribal partisan politics in America, Mary Worthen has asked, Is There a Way to Dial Down the Political Hatred? Worthen cites researchers who have concluded “that ‘out-party hate’ now seems to shape American voting decisions more than race or religion do. ‘The foundational metaphor for political sectarianism is religion,’ based on ‘the moral correctness and superiority of one’s sect.’ Political hatred has become Americans’ animating faith, a chief source of existential meaning. I’m convinced (well, I’m trying to convince myself) that most Americans are tired of the culture wars; they want to understand and get along with people different from themselves. It’s true that a zealous few turn political ideas into inerrant dogmas because they seek the sense of community once offered by traditional religion and because they crave ideological surrogates for the doctrines of original sin, predestination and divine justice — that perverse blend of control and victimhood that tempts humans when the prospect of taking real responsibility becomes too frightening. But a much larger proportion of Americans want their sense of free will back. They belong to ‘the exhausted majority.’ Their refusal to be bound by the habits and fears of their parents’ generation echoes the special role that young Americans played in the détente between Catholics and Protestants two generations ago — and maybe the history of interfaith conflict has something to teach us about rebuilding working relationships between Republicans and Democrats.” See https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/11/opinion/god-religion-politics-partisanship.html.
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