D. G. Hart on One Nation, Two Parties, Under Different Gods

The Lincoln Memorial is seen at sunrise in Washington April 5, 2015. On April 15, the United States commemorates the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. | REUTERS/Jim Bourg

In his Second Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.”  He was acknowledging that both sides in the Civil War, anti- and pro-slavery advocates, were Christians (specifically Protestant) who used faith to justify their politics.

In today’s politics, many assume that faith is the realm of the right; but now the Democratic party is trying to change that. From talking about God with Iowan voters to appointing Rev. Derrick Harkins as director of “faith engagement” for the Democratic National Committee, the new Democratic strategy appears to be an appeal to the nation’s believers. As Democratic Senator Chris Coons explained, “There is a misperception in middle America that the folks who are religious and elected are Republican, and the folks who are Democrats and elected are not [religious].”

American Christians have a long track record of appealing to God to underwrite the nation’s endeavors near and abroad.  The seminary where Harkins worked before joining the DNC, Union, was an important voice in adapting Christianity to modern society (called modernism).  That adjustment also coincided with the mainline Protestant churches’ support for Progressivism’s platform – prohibition, women’s suffrage, opposition to child labor, assimilation through public schools.  God’s ways, for many in the mainline, were on the side of progress. Evangelicals and the religious right came later. With Ronald Reagan, conservative Protestants also identified the nation with God’s purposes.  They did so in part because liberal Protestants (mainline) had during the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement become critical of the nation. When the nation’s policies did not look so great, churches had more room to talk about God’s standing over America in judgment.

Before the division between evangelicals who believed God to be on America’s side and liberal Protestants who thought the nation had abandoned God, both had warmly embraced the Cold War platform that the United States was, as the Pledge of Allegiance was revised to say, “Under God.”  In fact, during the 1950s, the pull of civil religion was so strong that President Dwight D. Eisenhower could say without embarrassment or contradiction from clergy, “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” “With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept,” he explained, “but it must be a religion with all men are created equal.”  For both parties and both sides of American Protestantism, God and the United States were rightly opposed to godless Soviet Communists.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, D. G. Hart