During the debates over the Compromise of 1850, US Senator Sam Houston of Texas borrowed from the words of Jesus when he warned, “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” The compromise comprised five separate bills that would temporarily ease the tension over the slavery issue by giving both sides a little of what they wanted. This salve applied to the publicly visible wound only delayed the inevitable disaster that ultimately resulted from the underlying cancer.
Eight years later, while accepting the Republican nomination for Senator, Abraham Lincoln echoed Houston’s sentiment when he said,
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
What was regarded by his law partner and others as a true, but politically incorrect, statement was predictably seized upon by his Democratic opponent, Stephen Douglas, who played upon the passions of the people over the slavery issue to defeat Lincoln.
Five short years later, now President Lincoln stood at the place of the most deadly shooting on American Soil – Gettysburg. With over 7,000 dead and total casualties possibly over 50,000, this three day conflict is indeed the deadliest shooting on American Soil. I don’t know how many were killed by guns versus other methods, but hopefully you get my point.
Add the other battles of the Civil War and we quickly add up over 600,000 deaths not to mention, maiming, loss of homes, families, businesses and more. If we were to compare this by percentage of population, civilwar.org tells us that the death toll would be as high as six million today.
The disaster we call the Civil War was not caused by a lone ideological gunman or even a foreign power who sought our destruction or our land. It came because we thought our rights and opinions were more important than our neighbors. We became a house divided.
My greatest concern today is not that we would be defeated by Islamic Terrorists, Right-Wing Fundamentalist or Left-Wing ideologues. My concern is that if we fail to learn to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31, Leviticus 19:9-18, Matthew 22:39), we will sell God out for the rhetoric that leads us to destroy each other.