The Inauguration: Hope for a Divided Nation
- Jim Denison Denison Forum on Truth and Culture
- 2017 20 Jan
“America will be saved by an honest and good man who will work for all the people.” That’s what Jon Voight predicted yesterday in his address to a crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.
Today Donald John Trump will be inaugurated as our nation’s forty-fifth president. Not everyone agrees with Voight: more than a quarter-million protesters are expected in Washington, DC this weekend. Thirty groups have received permits for rallies or marches before, during, and after the inauguration.
Why is our nation so divided over our new president?
Here’s an answer you may not have considered. Andrew Delbanco’s The Real American Dream claims that our culture has developed around three forces in which Americans have found hope: God, Nation, and Self.
During the colonial period, the central figure in the American story was God. The Puritan understanding of divine sovereignty infused colonists’ lives with purpose. Theirs was an abiding sense that God led them to build this nation as a “shining city upon a hill.”
Prior to the Civil War, the states largely saw themselves as independent members of a voluntary configuration. The bloodiest war in American history led to the cultural formation of a “United” States of America. From that point through two World Wars and the Great Depression, Americans increasingly looked to the nation as their source for justice, mercy, and hope.
In the 1960s, however, faith in the government declined dramatically. The Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal rocked our trust in our nation and her leaders. As Delbanco notes, our culture shifted to the self in “installing instant gratification as the hallmark of the good life, and in repudiating the interventionist state as a source of hope.”
Today, these three narratives are colliding as never before. On the spiritual level, some Christian leaders are strongly opposed to Donald Trump while others see his election as divine intervention for our nation. On the national level, some believe he will make America great again while others are certain he will undermine the institutions of our country. On the personal level, some think he will make us wealthier while others think he threatens our personal freedoms and core values.
Here’s the good news: our Founding Fathers created a nation with the astounding capacity to accommodate such conflicting views.
G. K. Chesterton observed that “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” Our creed is both simple and profound: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
As a result, we can accommodate opinions as conflicted as those we are now witnessing. We will mark another peaceful transfer of power today because our nation is founded on the freedom of ideas and those who embrace them.
However, these freedoms were first granted not by our Founding Fathers but by our Heavenly Father. The biblical declaration that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) is the foundation of our commitment to personal autonomy and freedom. Our trust in Nation and Self stands on our trust in God, or it will not stand at all.
At the end of today’s oath of office, President Trump will add the words first uttered by George Washington in 1789: “So help me God.” May we make his prayer ours as well.
NOTE: My latest booklet, How Does God See America?, is now available on our website.
Publication date: January 20, 2017
For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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