Our “Unfinished Work”–Recalling the Spirit of Lincoln at Gettysburg, and the use and abuse of the term “Christianity”

Dear Friends of The Seeds for Jubilee Foundation and Journey Conferences,

As we in the United States begin voting in our mid-term (between presidential) elections, our advisory board calls to mind the foundation’s mission (www.seedsforjubilee.org) of “sponsoring initiatives to move the human community…toward greater health and wholeness.”

We are mindful and deeply concerned that in recent years our American community and body politic appear to be moving in the opposite direction of health and wholeness toward greater conflict and divisiveness.  This is certainly not the first time in our nation’s history we have seen this level of rancor.

In the interest of encouraging greater health and wholeness in our political discourse, we offer some insightful comments recalling Lincoln at Gettysburg from our friend and colleague Charles “Buz” Myers, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.  An ordained Presbyterian minister who has taught in the church where Lincoln met with advisors following his address at Gettysburg, Dr. Myers offers some insights from his forty+ years of teaching and scholarship.  After obtaining his undergraduate degree at Duke,  Buz earned his M.Div and Ph.D at Princeton Theological Seminary. He then served a distinguished career in both the church and academia, receiving numerous teaching awards at Gettysburg College, where for many years he chaired the Department of Religious Studies while holding the Edwin T. and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Distinguished Teaching Professorship in Humanities. For ten years, he also served as Recording Secretary for the Revised Standard Version Bible Committee whose work culminated in the 1989 publication of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  His published work appears in scholarly journals and in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, a multi-volume reference work.  He is also co-editor of and contributor to Biblical Theology: Problems and Prospects (Atlanta: Abingdon, 1995), and co-author of Mark’s Gospel from Scratch: The New Testament for Beginners (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).

His short two-page piece and 14 minute video below – also available at https://youtu.be/JORLTMYHfFY – offers, we believe, an important perspective informed by his understanding of Christianity on voting for candidates of character, competence and caring that will foster “greater health and wholeness” instead of anger and division.

We encourage you to forward this BLOG or the URL links to all others you know who may find these comments of interest and value.


Dr. Tom Lane, Director
The Seeds for Jubilee Foundation

Our “Unfinished Work”
Charles D. Myers, Ph.D.

            We live in a country where the political landscape is deeply divided.  Our current national division, however, is not a new phenomenon.  For more than three decades I have taught less than a mile from where Abraham Lincoln in 1863 saw that the political crisis of his day posed an existential threat to this experiment in democracy.  What he does so powerfully and persuasively in his well-known “Gettysburg Address” is raise the sights of the American people by inviting his audience to join in “the unfinished work” of creating a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people” that demonstrates to the world that “all [persons] are created equal.”

            Like Lincoln, I wonder if our “house divided” today “can long endure.”  If we view politics as a zero-sum game, where every outcome is a win for one side that is offset by a loss for the other side, then win-win solutions will elude us.  We will remain divided, and the sum of our victories and losses will continue to be zero!   As a practicing Christian, however, I think there is “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) that builds on the Old Testament prophetic insight, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

            It begins with Jesus’ vision of his mission, which comes from Isaiah 61, a passage that Jesus read in his hometown synagogue at the outset of his public ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. . .to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2a quoted in Luke 4:18-19).  In Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, no one is left out or left behind.  Even those on the fringes of society are included.  In fact, as Jesus will say in his parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), how one treats “the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40, 45)–those who are hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, sick, and imprisoned– will be the basis for judging the nations of the world in the future.  Again, we see in Jesus’ teaching that everyone has a vital role to play in God’s [unified] Kingdom.  Jesus invites all to participate in this important work.

             Worth recalling is the fact that our ancestors were “outsiders” at one time.  The Christian movement began within Judaism, and early Jewish Christians wrestled with whether Gentiles should be included within the people of God.  The Apostle Paul, a full-blooded Jew, was perhaps the staunchest defender of Gentile inclusion, because he recognized that in Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).  Gentile Christians, therefore, owe a debt of gratitude to those ancients who were willing to extend a hand across the aisle and welcome them into the fellowship of believers.

            Because of our oneness in Christ, continued acceptance of and care for others within the community of faith is essential.  In his final words to his disciples Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). The selfless love that Jesus speaks of in the Upper Room is described by the Apostle Paul in these terms:  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  And because love endures into the Age to Come, “Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8a) and is “the greatest of these” spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13:13).

            The Apostle Paul wrote these words about love to a community that was plagued with factions and divisions (1 Cor. 1:10-13) encouraging them to “be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10).  But unity in Paul’s thinking does not mean uniformity.  Paul’s use of the body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 shows that not everyone in a functioning body does what every other part does.  A body needs a diversity of its parts to function properly, and all of those parts are inter-dependent on the other parts.  A healthy body does not privilege one part over another.  All parts are equal.

            How we treat other members of the body is vitally important, because it reveals something about our love of God.  As the author of 1 John so perceptively understands, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21).  But love of fellow-believers is also a witness to the world-at-large.  At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

            On the other hand, “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions” are what Paul labels “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-20).  These stand in stark contrast to “the fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  These latter qualities are the ones that Christians need to cultivate, commend, and seek out in others.

            I am concerned that our divisive political topography has had a negative impact on our work and witness as Christians in the world.  The Corinthians saw no harm in following the leader of their choice, they relished exercising their freedom to eat meat and worship God as they wanted, and they ignored the impact that the sinful behavior of one person has on the health of the whole body but willingly took fellow-believers to court over minor disputes.  No, says Paul.  Christian unity is never grounded in human authority figures (see 1 Cor. 1:12-13; 3:4-9), Christian freedom must be constrained by what builds up the whole community (1 Cor. 8:9-13; 14:12, 26), and the sinful behavior of one person is like a cancer that infects the entire body (1 Cor. 5:1, 6-8, 11-13).  Besides this, disputes between believers should be handled in-house or dropped altogether (1 Cor. 6:1-8).

            Today more than ever, we need what Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom,” and I believe that Christians of all stripes are being called to put aside their differences and speak with a united voice that faith and truth, justice and inclusion, love and compassion are the hallmarks of the Christian faith.  As the mid-term elections of 2022 approach, I urge all Christians to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) of candidates running for office in order to determine whether or not they are “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), for “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).  Candidates, who create division and distrust, who engage in heated rhetoric that promotes hatred and distrust of those with whom they disagree, who seek to win even if it means forgoing the truth and promoting lies, who are unwilling to limit their freedoms for the benefit of the community, may use Christian language to justify their positions, but they are not representing accurately the historic Christian faith that Jesus taught and lived.  Now is the time for Christians of all persuasions, along with persons of all faiths and no faith, to unite and elect to political office those who are upright in character, faithful in behavior, and moral in their decision making.  Those are the persons best equipped to help us finish what Lincoln called our “unfinished work.”

Dr. Charles D. Myers is an ordained Presbyterian minister and Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Gettysburg [PA] College.  For ten years he served as Recording Secretary of the New Revised Standard Bible Committee that produced the NRSV Bible translation.  Quotations are from the NRSV Bible.  Used by permission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *