So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Nation Under God, Indivisible: Lincoln the Man

            OK, I’m just going to open up with a little brutal honesty here. This is where the Neo-Confederates really let their arguments degenerate from any semblance of logic into rank ad hominem. Basically it goes like this: Lincoln didn’t care about black slavery at all. He was just a power-hungry tyrant-wannabe who’s illegitimately latched onto the title of “Great Emancipator.” He was an egregious racist and only used the issue of slavery when it suited his purposes, not out of any high-minded principle. Therefore the Confederacy was justified in its secession, since the Civil War wasn't really about slavery. Or something like that.
            As you can see, this is pretty non sequitur, but I’ve read it over and over in articles about Lincoln and/or the Civil War, and somehow NC’s seem to think it counts as a powerful argument.
            We really need to once again clarify this issue. It is absolutely true that the War was not fought by the Union in order to get rid of slavery, at least at first. Lincoln never claimed it was, and openly stated his goals and priorities at the outset of the War, which we'll get to later on in this post. But on the Confederate side, as far as they were concerned, it was virtually all about slavery. As we've discussed before, they said so over and over and over and over and over. Two sides can be fighting a war for different reasons and for different goals, and that's the case here. 
            So I want to spend the next couple of postings talking about Lincoln. This one is about him as a man. We’re going to—as best we can as human beings who can’t read minds—examine him, warts and all. The second posting is going to take a hard look at his conduct as a wartime Commander-in-Chief and address the charges that he was a war criminal and a would-be dictator.
            Before we delve into this, however, I really need to reiterate just how irrelevant this is to the NC’s argument. He might’ve been the worst racist who ever existed and that would in no way justify what the South did in seceding. None of that would refute one syllable of what I’ve written in the previous nine posts, unless I’m missing something here.
            As I’ve written before, one of the marks I’ve noticed about conservatives is that we try to make good and proper distinctions, and that seems a great place to start. The first is between A) Being anti-slavery and B) Having a fully enlightened view of race relations. And of course by “enlightened,” I mean “biblical.” The belief that one pigment of skin is superior to another finds absolutely no basis in Scripture. The idea that God somehow disapproves of marriage between people with different levels of melanin finds absolutely no basis in Scripture (Moses was married to a dark-skinned woman); the issue of intermarriage was always regarding one’s faith, never one’s skin color. As a corollary, the notion that people should be treated as second-class citizens based on their melanin-level finds absolutely no basis in Scripture. The sad fact that people calling themselves Christians have ignored this is a commentary on those alleged Christians, not on the Bible itself.
            Sorry, I found myself ranting a little bit there. Done now.
          Anyway, we have to understand that just because someone was opposed to slavery didn’t necessarily mean that they had an enlightened view on race. You could find statements made by some abolitionists which would still make us blush. Just to repeat: Someone in the 19th century could--and commonly did--exhibit a strong distaste for or even a visceral hatred of slavery and also hold racist views which we'd find completely unacceptable today. 
            This distinction found nigh-perfect expression in Lincoln. NC’s love to point out this statement by Lincoln in his famous debate with Douglas:

            I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

Ouch. That's horrible. Such views would be completely unacceptable today. Today we'd never hesitate to call such views racist. 

            However, he goes on within the same sentence:

            I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone.
            This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

             For some odd reason, NC's don't get this. Whether purposefully or not, they conflate racism with being pro-slavery. The two heavily overlapped in the South, but not completely. It's possible to own slaves and not be a racist (there were quite a few black slave owners Antebellum), and it's possible to be a racist and be opposed to slavery (like Lincoln). Of course, we'd prefer everyone to be neither, but such was the world of the 19th century.
            Another point which NC's love to bring up is that Lincoln proposed emigration of freed blacks to another country, possibly back to Africa, possibly to a nation of their own. Let's clarify some things on this, however:
1) This was something he half-heartedly toyed with at the beginning of his administration, not near the end. His racial views evolved towards the better, and you won't see any mention of this at the latter part of his life.
2) Nowhere at any time did he propose the forced emigration of blacks anywhere. Anything he ever considered was going to be strictly voluntary.
3) I'm not saying it was a great idea. We look back on it today and recognize it was a horrible notion. However, in his mind it was a better solution than millions of blacks being held in slavery, and he honestly feared that the two races could never live together in equality and harmony. We know he was wrong, but as they say, hindsight's 20/20.
4) You could make an argument that the very idea ipso facto was racist, and it's quite possible you'd be right in this case. Lincoln held some pretty racist views, and you could make a strong argument that this is only indicative of that. But can I point to Marcus Garvey, who lived a few decades after Lincoln and who proposed the exact same thing? I think Garvey and Lincoln were both wrong, but Garvey (who was black) shows that it's possible to propose something like this and not be an egregious racist. 
            Now I need to point out that he was, by the standards of his time, pretty enlightened. He had a relationship with Frederick Douglass, the most famous black abolitionist of his day, which started out with Douglass’s cautious support and which ended with a warm friendship and mutual respectful admiration. Douglass was the first black man personally invited to the White House, and he was treated with the utmost respect on his visits. 
            So were his racial attitudes in perfect accord with what we’d consider appropriate today? Of course not. Was he head and shoulders above the attitudes of most people of his day? Yes.
            Therefore, an honest accounting of Lincoln would summarize his racial beliefs thus: 1) He opposed full legal equality of the black and white races, founded in what he saw as their innate inferiority, and 2) He hated slavery with a passion and longed to see it exorcised like the blight on his beloved country which it was, and 3) He believed pretty much in equal economic opportunity for everyone of every race. 
            I have to make a side-note here. For anyone to condemn Lincoln for his lack of racial sensitivity (which he displayed at times) and yet to defend the Confederacy (which held over a third of its population in slavery) seems a bit odd for me. He held attitudes which we’d consider highly offensive today, but there’s absolutely no comparison to be made between his attitudes and those of the leadership of the CSA.
            Another distinction we have to make is between 1) Hating slavery and being willing to use any means necessary to end it yesterday, and 2) Hating slavery but seeing its extinction as not necessarily the highest priority.
            What?! How can this be? Every right-thinking person hated slavery with a passion to the degree that they’d do anything to end it, right? This was the view of the hardcore abolitionists: Slavery is so bad that we need to do whatever we need to do to end it immediately.
            And Lincoln hated slavery. He hated it with a passion. He hated it with every fiber of his being. In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, he summarized his main dividing line with his opponent thus:

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.

            He hated slavery, not just because of its injustice towards blacks but because it threatened the freedom of whites.

Now, when by all these means you have succeeded in dehumanizing the negro; when you have put him down, and made it forever impossible for him to be but as the beasts of the field; when you have extinguished his soul, and placed him where the ray of hope is blown out in darkness like that which broods over the spirits of the damned; are you quite sure the demon which you have roused will not turn and rend you? What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.

            In a letter to Albert Hodges, he wrote “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.” However, in the very next sentence he wrote:

And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and in many ways.

            You see, to Lincoln, there were higher priorities than getting rid of slavery. The rule of law, for one. He understood the evil of slavery, and he fully sympathized with the incredible hardships of slaves. Nevertheless, he never was a big fan of the Underground Railroad, because as much as he hated slavery, he valued the rule of law even higher. And as abhorrent as they were, he disapproved of openly flouting the Fugitive Slave Laws, because they were the law of the land, embedded within the Constitution. Without the rule of law, freedom and justice couldn’t be sustainable, and he just couldn’t get on board for that, no matter the provocation.
            How much did he value the rule of law? From Bill Bennett's American Patriot's Almanac:

On January 27, 1838, when he was almost twenty-nine years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, entitled “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” In his speech he argued that liberty could not survive without reverence for laws, a theme prompted in part by the recent murder of an abolitionist by a mob in Alton, Illinois.

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the Patriots of Seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor. Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s, liberty. Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

           He believed in the rule of law, and as a corollary he also believed in the Constitution as the highest law of the land. Under the Constitution which he swore to uphold and defend, slavery was a matter for each state to decide, not for the federal government to legislate. Under the Constitution, he said that he had no more jurisdiction over slavery in South Carolina than he did of serfdom in Russia. He couldn’t just simply declare it illegal without an amendment to the Constitution.
            This was a huge bone of contention between him and the abolitionists (he completely eschewed that term for himself, btw). William Lloyd Garrison, one of the most prominent in that camp, “called the Constitution ‘a devil’s pact,’ ‘dripping with blood,’ and his disdain was acted out at a July 4th gathering, in 1854, when he burned a copy of the Constitution, and urged the crowd to shout ‘Amen.’” Why would he do this? Because to him and people like him, getting rid of slavery wasn’t the most important thing, it was the only thing. And since the Constitution didn’t ban it outright and even made some allowances for it, he called it what he did.      
            You see, as far as Garrison was concerned, the South pulling out of the Union was preferable to compromises concerning slavery. The Founders had made some necessary concessions to the South, starting with the Revolutionary War and continuing thru the 1850’s, and to him that was completely unacceptable: Better the United States had never been rather than it exist in its present form with its compromises with this ultimate evil.
            Not so with Lincoln. He valued the rule of law and the Constitution and the Union more than he hated slavery. But in his mind the two were inextricably intertwined: You couldn’t have one without the other. If the Union fell apart, then liberty’s “experiment” would be perceived as a failure to a watching world. That’s why he did what he did in order to preserve the Union above all. In a letter to Horace Greeley (another hugely prominent abolitionist) he said

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

            How could he say this? Because to him, the only way to deal with slavery in a just and decisive fashion was through the Union and gradually getting rid of the institution through proper legal (Constitutional) means. To him, as bad as slavery was, there were worse things, like anarchy and the destruction of this country, which he called “the last best hope of earth.”
            Remember what I said near the beginning of this post about what Lincoln's goals were? They were quite simple, since he openly stated them--like the South--over and over and over and over. He was fighting the War in order to restore and protect rule of law under the Constitution. He took an oath to uphold and defend that Constitution, and he meant it. 
            Now, you can like this or despise this about him. You can agree with the abolitionists that slavery was so bad that it would’ve been better for the country to go down in flames rather than that vile institution exist one moment longer. You can believe that. But Lincoln would heartily disagree, and at least now you understand where he was coming from.
            Look, I’ve never been a slave, and neither was Lincoln, so it might seem easy for us to say “The law has to be obeyed.” But I have to admit he has a point. The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, told us to submit to governing authorities, “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Paul was writing this around the time of Nero, one of the cruelest and bloodthirsty rulers of all time. This was the guy who’d set Christians on fire as human torches in order to light up his garden at night. What this tells me is that as far as the Lord’s concerned, really really really bad government is better than no government.
            There are worse things than individual instances of gross injustices. Justice and freedom are only possible when we have government in place. If the government we have needs some vast improvements, then we work—whenever possible—within the system to change it.
            Makes sense to me. How’s about you?

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