“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24
“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” Isaiah 58:12
All across America and across both sides of the political aisle we hear of the need for “unity.” But what does true, honest-to-goodness unity look like, and how do we achieve it? What guidance can the Christian Church offer? Let’s take a deep dive to seek honest answers.
On March 4, 1861 President Lincoln’s inaugural address had one overriding theme, that of knitting the Union (the word he repeated 20 times) together in the midst of states’ secession. In the address, the new President lyrically appealed to the “mystic chords of memory” and to “the better angels of our nature” to hold the Union together.
On January 20, 2021, two weeks after the storming of the Capitol by an insurrectionist mob of its own citizens, the overarching theme of President Biden’s inaugural address to a nation divided as at no other time since the impending Civil War was the need to foster unity among all Americans. And with that came the acknowledgment for truth as the foundation of unity. The reason is clear. Never has truth been more necessary, or more endangered. “There is truth and there are lies;” President Biden told us,“lies told for profit and for power.”
Then, applying her own mystic chords of lyricism to the moment at hand a skinny, dark skinned and angelic young poet laureate summoned the best in us to help us climb the long hill toward unity by reminding us that:
“Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished…”
The next day, January 21, at the (virtual) National Prayer Service held at the Washington National Cathedral (with video input from diverse participants across the land) Rev. Dr. William J. Barber III in his homily challenged the country to go a step further on the upward journey toward unity. He called upon leaders and all of us to become what Isaiah called “repairers of the breach.” In so doing, I believe he was showing us all what it means and what it takes to seek Holy unity, that same “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” that the Apostle Paul urged the followers of Christ at Ephesus to embody. I heard his words as a prophetic call echoing that of Amos to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
“Simplistic calls for unity,” preached Rev. Barber, “is not how we can close the breach… The only way to ensure domestic tranquility is to establish justice.”
Prophets remind us that simplistic calls, and worse than that, disingenuous calls for unity do not cut it; they do not get us up the long hill. As purveyors of truth and justice prophets proclaim:
+ There is no unity without truth and accountability, the honest recognition of personal and corporate sins of commission and omission.
+ There is no accountability without truth and justice, the legitimate moral scale that fairly balances the letter of the law with the spirit of the law, righteous judgment metered out equally to all regardless of condition.
+ There is no justice without truth and moral conscience and conviction, the honorable character and courage to let virtue flow down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Further defining the “breach” and prescribing what we must address to close it, Rev. Barber stated:
“Transposed to our time, the breach is when we say ‘One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’ with our lips, while we see the rich and the poor living in two very different Americas… We must address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, denial of healthcare, the war economy, and the false distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. These are breaches that must be addressed. And according to the text, repairing the breaches will bring revival.”
The chosen text and Rev. Barber’s clarion call for reparation was an echo to the line in Amanda Gorman’s poem of the preceding day,“being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
Rev. Baber’s full homily can be seen HERE.
Rev. Barber preaches in the tradition of other prophetic orators such as the late Dr. Martian Luther King Jr. who reminded us what role the Church has to play in affairs of the State (i.e. matters of politics). At a time in which religious nationalism and white evangelicalism has perverted Holy writ and Christian theology, we would do well to remember his words: “The church is not called to be the master or servant of the state, but to be the conscience of the state.”
+ For the Church to be the faithful conscience of the state and to end this uncivil war means to echo the words and perform the deeds of the age old prophets, apostles and martyrs of a gracious but just God who calls for true confession and accountability for righting wrongs that inflict pain, suffering and death in the kind of “uncivil war” that the President called out in his inaugural address.
+ For the Church to be the faithful conscience of the state and to end this uncivil war means we must be willing to put on the armor of truth and justice and march, as Shakespeare wrote in King Henry V, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”
+ For the Church to be the faithful conscience of the state and to end this uncivil war means we must be willing to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
A fitting conclusion to this Holy Unity post is found in two of the prayers uttered at the inaugural prayer service by Sister Carol Keehan, chief executive of the Catholic Health Association of the United States and by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago:
“Guide and bless senators and members of the House of Representatives that they may hear the people’s voice and be led to enact laws for the common good and the protection of the most vulnerable. Give them courage and force them to work together to serve the people of this nation faithfully and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations. Keep this nation under your care.”
“O Lord God, bless all who dedicate themselves to governing in our land. Stir up the passion and reverence of the justices of the Supreme Court for the rule of law and the way of justice. Fill their deliberations with insight and their judgments with integrity. And may they discern the truth and administer the law with impartiality that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served for all.”
Amen. May it be so.