Patriotic Grace in a Season of Political Posturing
Krista Tippett began her interview with Richard Mouw, the previous President of Fuller Theological Seminary, one of America’s premier Evangelical institutions, by noting that “American public life feels as fragile and divided today as at any time in recent memory.” She noted the “political and social chasms between us that give no evidence of being resolved any time soon.” And she wondered about how we might “build a flourishing common life, even while holding deep disagreements on so many issues?” (http://www.onbeing.org/program/restoring-political-civility-evangelical-view/163).
Dr. Mouw’s focus in the interview was on our “common life” as citizens. He worries that serious conversation about and genuine concern for our common life have almost become “foreign in the American cultural discourse,” and to make his point, Dr. Mouw took the conversation all the way back to Aristotle (384–322 BC).
To be civil comes from the Latin word “civitas” a word meaning that we know how to live together in a city. It was Aristotle, the ancient philosopher, who said that as little children we have a natural sense of kinship. We have strong positive feelings toward those who are our blood relatives – “my” mother, “my” father, “my” sisters and brothers, “my” cousins and the like. And then as we grow up, some of those same positive feelings begin to develop about our friends. So we go from kinship and we build on that to a broader sense of friendship where you have that same sense of bonding or something like it that isn’t just based on being a blood relative. But Aristotle said that to really grow up, to become a fully mature human being, then we have to have in the public square that same sense of bonding to people from other cities, to people who are very different than yourself. It’s not just toleration. Rather, it is a sense that what I owe to “my” mother because she brought me into this world, what I owe to “my” friends because of our shared experiences and memories and delights, I also owe to the stranger. Why? Because they’re human beings just like I am, and therefore I’ve got to begin to think of our shared humanity as something that binds us all together.
On June the 9th, 2004, Peggy Noonan, the Political Columnist who was one of President Reagan’s speechwriters, was in Washington D.C. for his funeral. She writes that about 100 of the people who had been instrumental in his administration – cabinet heads, party elders, political allies and operatives were altogether in a big room on the Senate side of the Capitol for a reception when armed security officers burst in and forcefully announced: “We are evacuating the Capitol right now! This is not an exercise! We are evacuating the Capitol. Now. Everyone out.” Startled, people looked at each other, began to gather up their stuff and started ambling toward the doors. That’s when a second security officer burst into the room and shouted at the top of his lungs: “We’ve got an unidentified incoming aircraft – sixty seconds out… move!” People began to run.
When Peggy got to the top of the Capitol steps she saw someone point and shout – “There it is… aircraft incoming!” As she hurried down the steps a Capitol guard at the bottom implored everyone to run for their lives. “Ladies, take off you high heels and run just as fast and as far as you possibly can.” And Peggy says that as she turned to look back at the Capitol, at the top of the stairs there was an old woman in a wheelchair – stranded – unable to get down by herself – just sitting there as people rushed by her. And then Peggy said that she saw two big burly men come alongside her wheelchair, hoist it up and carry her down the long steps and then wheel her away to safety.
And Peggy wrote –
Something happened as I watched her being carried down the Capitol steps. A thought came to my mind with the force of an intuition, and in time that thought sank in and did not leave… It was – “Before this is over we’ll all be helping each other down the stairs… before this is over… Americans all around me, whoever they are, whatever their politics… will be helping me down the stairs, and I’ll be helping them.”
Peggy explains –
I am a political conservative, but I am in this thing we call America with political liberals. You may be a political liberal, but you’re in this thing with political conservatives. They’ll be helping you down the stairs. You’ll be helping them down the stairs. We’re in this thing together… Republicans and Democrats… Conservatives and liberals… we’re all in this thing together.
And then Peggy concluded –
What we need most right now, at this particular moment in our history, is a kind of patriotic grace – a grace that takes the long view – a grace that eschews the politically cheap and manipulative – a grace that takes the deep view – a grace that admits affection and respect for others – that in fact encourages affection and respect for others – that agrees that the things that divide us are not worthy of this moment – while the things that encourage our cohesion as a nation must be encouraged.
“Patriotic Grace” does not require me to abandon my political convictions and conclusions, but it does require me not to view those who disagree with me as being either stupid or evil. And “Patriotic Grace” demands that I put my concern that my country continues to work to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” above my concern for any transient political victory and my candidate’s turn at the exercise of elusive partisan power. There’s something so much bigger at work here. There’s something much more important at stake now. We’re all in this thing together. DBS +