The Bridges column of the July 2017 Sojourners magazine gave me pause to think more deeply about how we, as Americans, expect and embrace leaders in our nation who “draw freely from religious language to sacralize national symbols.” On this Independence Weekend my attention was drawn to what is for me, the single most inspiring example of civil religion. It occurred during a time of great peril that threatened our civil society… an event marked by unprecedented carnage and what appeared to be in irreparable division in our nation — the Civil War.
The short speech that President Abraham Lincoln delivered on that battlefield of enormous human loss remains, in my mind, the peak expression of civil religious tradition against which all other forms of the tradition must be measured. The words “consecrate”, “hallow”, “devotion”, and “resting place” evoke a firm faith, an unwavering trust, and a God-given resolve to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. And while he only mentions “God” a single time, in the manner of the great documents created by the founding fathers, Lincoln’s reflection is thoroughly infused with the language of civil religion.
At a time in our country when too many leaders invoke the “religion card” in an effort to claim popular support or to criticize the faith of those not of the Christian tradition, President Lincoln’s address stands as a true measure of a civil religious tradition that “creates what Justice Felix Frankfurter referred to as “cohesive sentiment”. On this Independence Day 2017, let us strive to work toward a tradition that enables us to be in harmony with others in all that we say and do.
Bridges, Author Eboo Patel – Sojourners Magazine, July 2017 https://sojo.net/magazine/july-2017/can-civil-religion-save-us