One week ago I was in Durham, NC, with a couple of hours to kill before I dropped my friend off at the airport and we both headed home from our week of theological study. We found Bennett Place and decided to visit. Bennett Place is an historical site. There’s a well-done visitor center and then the old farmhouse and outbuildings.
A week after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April, 1865, and just days after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and Confederate General Joe Johnston met on the road from Raleigh to Greensboro to arrange the surrender of Johnston’s 85,000 troops. The surrender would effectively end the Civil War. On his way to meet Sherman, Johnston had passed the Bennett farm, and both generals agreed to use the parlor of the Bennett house as a place to sit down and begin negotiations. Sherman, who is often credited as developing the concept of “total war,” was amazingly gracious in the terms he offered. The politicians in Washington would denounce Sherman as a traitor and remove grace from the surrender.
There’s a fifteen-minute video presentation in the Bennett Place visitor center that tells the story. Towards the end of the film, the narrator speaks of the tragedy of the government’s rejection of the gracious terms of surrender offered by Sherman. It quotes the closing words of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address to illustrate the vision of a reconciled America that Sherman shared with his fallen captain.
You may remember these words: With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Better words have not been spoken by an American president.
So the narrator on the video began, “With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us bind up the nation’s wounds…” That was it.
I told my friend that this was no editing job. It was butchery and historical heresy. Okay, maybe the words of a grumpy old American History major.
In the aftermath of the grievous events in Charleston this week, we cannot afford the editing.
The pundits and the politicians are already talking, and, as usual, saying too much. For sure, it appears that guns and mental health and lack of opportunity and drugs may play into the story as we learn more. But we know enough already to know what is at the heart of this story. This is a story about the nation’s wounds still unbound. This is about race. Dylann Roof killed nine people at a Bible study at their church because they were black.
Forget more legislation or funding for new programs. After the grief and the mourning needs to come repentance. 150 years later, we have not yet bound up the nation’s wounds. We have not overcome the pain and sorrow of “the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil.”
I am white and I have advantage and privilege that my black friends do not have. Better is not good enough.
We, all of us, have failed to bind up the nation’s wounds, especially the wound of racism. And we won’t so long as we think we can.
Editing out references to God in a visitor center video may play well in tolerance obsessed America, but it will, inevitably, doom us to continued tragic failure to bind up the nation’s wounds. We need God’s help. We need God’s word. We need the right as God has given us to see the right.
We cannot tolerate racism in our beloved country, in our churches, at LPC, among our friends, because God has given us to see the right. By ourselves we cannot do the right because we, of ourselves, to not know the right. But God, and God alone, has given us to see the right. It may be over-quoted, but it is not over-believed or over-lived: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28.
“God shows no partiality,” we will hear on Sunday in the text from Acts 10:34. His love is for all and open to all. We cannot hate our sisters and brothers without hating God.
Pray for America