Church & State

America faces its gravest crisis since the Civil War

Letter from America: Trump after 100 days

Dr Os Guiness

The American Republic is in the throes of its gravest crisis since the Civil War in the 1860s, a crisis that threatens both its greatness and its freedom. And as with that earlier time of terrible, self-inflicted judgment, the deepest threat is not the foreign invader but the American insider. The problem is not America against the world, or the world against America, but America against itself, citizen against citizen, state against citizens, and even President against President. So writes Dr Os Guinness, a leading American culture critic, sociologist and Anglican layman.

Can a nation divided against itself ultimately stand or has America reached its nadir and must watch like Saddam Hassan’s statue, slowly topple to the ground, run over by forces determined to liberate the oppressed from the oppressor? Is America itself now out of control, paralyzed and torn politically, with the swamp undrained, the rich and powerful still in control, with the one percent still in full possession of 90% of the nation’s wealth?

Are America’s Christian churches now becoming so irrelevant that Nones rule and the survivors can only find solace in The Benedict Option?

Americans are angry. Last year, the BBC asked a question that many of us are still asking: “Why Are Americans So Angry?” According to a CNN/ORC poll from a year ago, “69 percent of Americans are either ‘very angry’ or ‘somewhat angry’ about ‘the way things are going’ in the US.” At the time, Republicans were the most angry, but more than two-thirds of us were angry about the economy, immigration, “Washington, and America’s ‘place in the world.’” 2017 has only fueled the fire for voters on both sides, and many of us are still getting red-faced about these and many other issues, as evidenced by the recent events on US campuses where free-speech squabbles erupt amidst cries of political correctness.

While it’s easy to blame Trump for the rise in anger, his presidency is a reflection of our rising anger and not the cause of it, writes Caryn Rivadeneira.

Moreover, there are larger forces at work, beyond economic and political ones. In a recent article for the Atlantic Monthly, Peter Beinart writes that a rising secularism is “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal.” He goes on to say, “As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.” Although he concedes that “establishing causation is difficult,” the absence of faith in some people’s lives has arguably impacted their disposition toward those with whom they disagree.

For those of us who still faithfully participate in church communities around the country, we still face the same problem of anger and partisan rancor that marks the American zeitgeist, albeit for different reasons and at varying levels.

Writer Ellen Painter Dollar cites a different reason for her anger: “My anger is exacerbated by a feeling of helplessness. It feels like there are these big forces at work, and I don’t know how to respond. Intellectually, I believe that our job as human beings is to do good when we can, even when it’s a small thing. I cling to that and try to live it. But right now, it feels inadequate. So it’s that feeling of powerlessness that stokes my anger.”

Along with the feeling of anger and powerlessness many feel in America, there are other forces at work. John W. Rutherford, Constitutional attorney, author and founder and president of The Rutherford Institute, writes in his new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People that our freedoms—especially the Fourth Amendment—continue to be torn asunder by the prevailing view among government bureaucrats that they have the right to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation. A brutal video went viral recently when a Chinese doctor was hauled off of a United Airlines plane because he refused to give up his paid seat to airline staff.

Americans are living in a precarious moment in time. Things and events could go either way. Washington itself garners little respect from the American public. At the last count only 9 percent of Americans believe Washington is doing a good job; is it any wonder that Donald Trump rode into town on a white horse of political salvation and talked of draining the swamp.

It hasn’t happened of course and probably won’t, but it makes for a great soundbite. The president’s call to make America Great Again came with promises that we would no longer be the policemen of the world. But Trump’s America first foreign policy focusing on American interests and American national security saw two bomb attacks – one in Syria and the other in Afghanistan, the latter in the name of defeating ISIS, bewildered Americans. The president is proposing an armada of naval ships in Korean waters.

Peace through strength will be at the center of America’s foreign policy, says the president. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.

The world will be more peaceful and more prosperous with a stronger and more respected America, he says.

Americans are less sanguine about such prospects. Two U.S. House special elections this week in Kansas and Georgia showed Democrats making inroads in traditionally conservative Republican districts, offering the first snapshot of the US political landscape after President Trump’s inauguration.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, said Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  Indeed, the same could be said of a president who has boasted mightily of how he will lead America. But the jury is still out and will be for some time to come.

David W Virtue is North American correspondent for Global Christian News. He resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife Mary and their dog.