Sometimes we can learn something from the past. I thought about this as the political stalemate that brought our nation to a partial shutdown of our government was resolved in a last-minute deal. This is not the first time our nation has faced a political crisis and probably will not be the last, so I thought I would share a history lesson this week.
In the wake of our victory in the Revolutionary War with England, our founding fathers recognized the Articles of Confederation, which had loosely united the original thirteen colonies, were not an adequate document upon which we could forge a new nation. Representatives from each of the thirteen colonies gathered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 25, 1787. A month later, June 28, 1787, they were close to adjourning in disarray. Those who had been united in the common cause of liberty now found themselves divided over a number of political issues.
Benjamin Franklin, then 81 years old, rose to his feet and with permission from the moderator of the convention, George Washington, spoke these words:
“In the situation of this assembly, groping as it were, in the dark for political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding? In the beginning with the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and were graciously answered…
“I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel…
“I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one of our clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”
They followed Franklin’s wise advice and framed a document known as the Constitution of the United States. It was prayer that brought agreement. Benjamin Franklin’s words of yesteryear ring with seeming fresh insight in our current political circumstances. It seems that we still grope “in the dark for political truth.”
In a recent interview with CBN News, Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said, “Nobody, the President, the Senate, the Congress, nobody is saying, let’s call on the name of Almighty God. Why? Because we’ve taken God out of our government. We don’t want Him.” He goes on to say, “Our country is in trouble. We are in moral decay” because of the “greed and lust” in our hearts.
Our nation is governed by the representatives we elect. The sectarian strife we have witnessed recently in Washington cannot be blamed solely on our elected officials. What we saw was a reflection of the conflict present among us as citizens. We are a nation divided because we refuse to relinquish what we perceive to be our right to do as we please, to do as we should for the common good, because of the greed and the lust in our own hearts.
Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and it was these principles that made us the greatest nation on the face of the earth. They are the only principles that will keep us great. The French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville said, “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
It is my prayer that Tocqueville’s words do not become prophetic. The shutdown of government services because of the sectarian stalemate is merely symptomatic of a greater cultural problem. That problem is spelled out in a Scriptural principle; when men turn their back on God they will begin to turn on one another.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” Psalm 133:1.