Friday, August 17, 2012

Disintegration of the United States of America

Many would agree that America has made great strides toward ethnic integration during the past half century.  At the same time, integration of telephone, television, and other digital technology through the world wide web has produced a remarkable expansion in communications.

According to the dictionary, integration is “the process of making whole or entire.”  For an individual or part, integration is “the process of fitting in.” Thus, integration of ethnic minorities involves individuals that ‘fit into’ communities; meanwhile, the community is being “made whole or complete.”  Metaphorically, a cake baked from well stirred ingredients will have the same color and consistency throughout because the individual ingredients have been integrated.  Conversely, an integrated community or nation, would not have pockets of separation (segregation) in which minorities are excluded or at odds with the larger social-political dynamic.  Rather, each individual is given the opportunity to participate in making the community or nation complete.

In his inaugural address, January 20, 2009, Barak Obama emphasized our progress as a nation toward becoming an integrated whole (emphasis mine):

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself…

Inauguration of Barack Obama, January 20, 2009
Three and one-half years after the president’s inauguration, our daily news is filled with indications that we are becoming more divided as a nation.  Instead of integrating and expressing “our common humanity” around commonly held values and mutual respect for ethnic, cultural, and political diversity, we are “disintegrating” into an increasing number of factions.

A dictionary defines disintegration as-- “to break into parts; dismember; dissolve.”  Things that disintegrate do not actually “disappear.”  Rather, they break into parts too tiny for us to see, like table salt crystals that “disappear” when stirred into water.  Each salt crystal, composed of billions of precisely arranged atoms forming a latticework is “disintegrated” or “dissolved” by the water.  The tiny charged atoms escape from the lattice into the water where they begin a constant, chaotic motion.

Contributing to our current “disintegration” in America is the president’s seeming inability to achieve a bi-partisan effort to rejuvenate the economy, address the growing federal deficit, curb spiraling health care costs, and establish a workable immigration policy.  The Obama campaign, perhaps frustrated by these failed efforts, now seems to promote disagreement and division rather than unity of purpose in the midst of economic hardship. 

Let’s look closer at two evidences of “disintegration” in America-- the “contraceptive mandate” within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare); and, the president’s push to increase government revenue through higher taxes on wealthy Americans.  Please note that both of these examples of “disintegration” stem from an absence of “integration” of principles rooted in Judeo-Christian values which historically have been interwoven through the moral and ethical fabric of individuals, families, and communities.

Kirk Cameron, in his film production, Monumental:  In Search of America’s National Treasure,” traces the influence of Judeo-Christian faith on the founding of America.  In the 17th century, the integration of their Christian faith into daily life prompted Puritan separatists to risk great danger to escape to a little-known continent to gain the freedom to worship and practice their faith.  The influence of their covenant, expressed in the Mayflower Compact, on colonial culture over the following century and a half was instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

With that brief history, let’s return to our two expressions of disintegration in America.  The first relates to the “contraceptive mandate” which would exempt churches but require faith-based institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and abortion-related counseling.  Many people of faith oppose this portion of ObamaCare because they see it as a threat to religious freedom. As a result, the federal government now faces 24 lawsuits.

Anthony Picarello and Michael Moses, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, summarized the moral and legal concerns of church leaders who object to the “…narrow exemption that intrusively and unlawfully carves up the religious community into those that are deemed 'religious enough' for an exemption, and those that are not.”  The idea that Americans can be divided between those who are “religious employees” and those who aren’t suggests a misunderstanding or a denial or even a disdain on the part of the current administration for what it means to “live out ones faith” or to “integrate” ones faith convictions with their personal and professional lifestyle outside of church.

There is a second area in which the “carving knife” is at work on the fabric that has held Americans together.  One can see the gleam of the knife at work when we hear talk of the “unfairness” in the tax code that supposedly favors the wealthy.   We are continually reminded that each American occupies one of three groups-- “the rich,” “the middle class,” and “the poor.”  Here is a now-famous statement by President Obama on the subject of creating and earning wealth:

If you've got a business, you didn't build that.  Somebody else made that happen.
                                – President Barack Obama, July 16, 2012 (Roanoke, VA)

President Obama appears to be suggesting that American entrepreneurs rely so much on the social, economic, and technological infrastructure that they should not mind giving more of their incomes to the government through higher taxes. The president may mean well by saying this, but his statements betray a woeful lack of integration of Judeo-Christian teaching with the entrepreneurial spirit.   Consider how the president’s challenge might sound if it were based on an understanding of biblical truth—here expressed by the Apostle Paul: 

For who regards you as superior?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it,
why do you boast as if you had not received it?  
-- I  Corinthians 4:7

Saint Paul’s statement, unlike the president’s, challenges successful entrepreneurs to remember that human capability to earn or create wealth has been permitted by the grace of God, and that he or she is a steward of the power and position God has granted.  Thus, the Scriptural teaching has none of the president’s tone that has led to a divisive and destructive response within our national narrative.  Instead, it credits God, not government as being ultimately responsible for any prosperity we enjoy.

A regular awareness of our dependence upon God should foster a humble stewardship that recognizes that, as we earn or create wealth, we have a responsibility to be generous and to give joyfully to others and to worthy causes.  This obligation is further underscored through another principle of Scripture expressed in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (emphasis mine):
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor,
performing with his own hands what is good,
so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
                                                                                 – Ephesians 4:28

Here, the Scriptures emphasize not only the value of hard work and earning an income; but also that we use our income as a channel of God’s provision for those in need.  Rather than President Obama’s approach to “social justice” in which the government is the agency of “wealth redistribution,” the Scriptures appeal to the hearts of people who are blessed with talents, time, and treasures to act voluntarily and generosity to share with the needy of for worthy causes.  If God’s people were to (a) recognize Who it is that has given them the abilities to gain wealth, and then (b) become committed to use their talent, time, and treasures to provide loving help (not handouts) to the needy, the resulting acts from thousands of people acting at the local level would transform individuals and our communities in much more effective ways than welfare programs from far-away Washington.

Historically, a vast number of Americans have exercised great generosity, many having done so as a result of the very faith in and gratitude toward God that we have been describing.  May this spirit be encouraged by a correct understanding of the nature of man, the proper role of government, and the responsibility of individuals to work hard and be generous toward God and neighbor.  May we not abuse the stewardship of our freedoms which have allowed us to strive together as Americans against forces that would disintegrate our families, communities, and nation.

 Prayer:   Father in Heaven, thank you for our freedom in Christ, available to whoever believes and accepts the free gift of eternal life, purchased at the priceless cost of Jesus’ shed blood on the cross for us while we were yet sinners; guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and affirmed by His gift of the Holy Spirit.   Thank you for endowing us, as affirmed in the U.S. Constitution, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, You have seen fit to allow …Governments [to be] instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….  How blessed we are that America has been founded on principles from Your Word,  and as a result has achieved what no other nation in history has in the way of religious freedom and the accompanying social and cultural successes.  America has been and still is an “exceptional nation.”   Thank You for our leaders who recognize Your authority, and their individual accountability, first to You and Your Word, and then to their constituency.  Grant wisdom to President Obama and to all elected officials and the justices who serve in the courts at every level.  Give these “civil servants” courage to reject political expediency or personal gain for the sake of what honors You and what is best for the individuals, families, and communities of this great land.  As a result, may we continue to have the freedom to labor, to worship and serve You, and to demonstrate Christ’s love to others both at home and abroad.  Finally, help us to understand the respective roles of government and of each individual citizen and not to confuse the two lest we become more and more a nation of entitlement leading to obsession with “our rights” at the expense of striving as faithful stewards to be fruitful and generous spirits that offer assistance to those who need help to become what God intends them to be.    Amen.

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