The past few years have been pretty tough for us here in the United States. After all, we are the greatest nation on the face of the earth – for the moment.
But two extended wars and an unregulated banking system have just about brought us to our knees. Not a bad place to be if you happen to be a person of faith.
But it’s a tough place to be if you are part of a people of pride.
We are the ones, at least in our own version of history, who carved civilization out of a wild frontier. We tamed the West. We defeated fascism and communism. We conquered space and landed on the moon.
Now, we can’t pay our bills. What happened?
Well, the short answer is we stopped working together. Our political life has become so polarized that it no longer matters what is the common good, only whose party is in power.
But the longer answer is more complicated.
My wife and I saw the film “The King’s Speech” recently. The story is about England’s King George VI, the father of the current Queen Elizabeth.
George, in a series of complicated circumstances, became king pretty much against his will and against significant personal obstacles. George could not speak in public without stuttering.
One of the things that people demand of their leaders is a determined and clear vision. Jimmy Carter was often criticized for his poor speech making. He was defeated by Ronald Reagan, in part, because of Reagan’s great communication skills.
As King George VI ascended to the throne, he found himself thrust into the shadow of Adolf Hitler, one of the great populist orators of all time. As Hitler was electrifying Germany, King George was stammering his way across England.
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But George found a way through. With the help of a gifted teacher and with a sense of personal determination, not to mention a devoted wife, George found his voice.
And with his voice, he led his country through one of the most trying times in history.
That’s what we need today – to find our voice. Not the voice of a particular leader, but the voice of our original vision.
America came into existence in resistance to tyranny but also in commitment to social justice. It took us a little while to finally work out all the kinks in that vision – slavery, women and so forth – but the foundation that made those developments possible were there from the beginning.
Now as we face what may be one of the most trying times of our own history, we need that original vision to shine clearly. We must have a deep commitment to social justice.
We cannot afford to sell our souls to short-term political gains. It cannot be about which party is in power but what is best for all the people who are our neighbors – the common good.
People of faith have a significant role to play in this. In the Scriptures of our faith, there is a determined commitment on God’s part to create in us a sense of devotion to justice.
History has demonstrated over and over again that the strength of a nation is measured by how it treats the weakest of its citizens. If we are to survive and thrive, we need to recover our voice for “the least of these” in our midst.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.