taking the words of Jesus seriously

The United States has never been free of internal conflicts. But it feels different these days. A lot of people are feeling it, left and right. The disagreement and conflicts are getting sharper by the day. The mutual suspicion is deeper. Hostility is greater. There is a viciousness about it. Reasoned conversation seems impossible. There is a pervasive feeling that it is only going to get worse. But to what end?

None other than the president of the United States named that end in a tweet he reposted from a preacher who has been called the Apostle of Trump: civil war! He said that if Trump was impeached and removed from office it would cause a civil war-like disruption in the country. He didn’t say a literal civil war, nor claim to be predicting one. But the very words conjure horrors.

The fact is that a growing number of people are predicting a literal civil war. Not a war between states or one with large armies lined up against one another, but a national upheaval that would involve a significant increase in domestic terrorism and guerilla action.

There are rash, careless voices being raised that both predict and seem to encourage civil war. Republican Congressman Steven King posted a taunting meme on social media suggesting that if there was a civil war, red state citizens would win because they have “about 8 trillion bullets.”

Humor? Perhaps. But in the poorest of taste given the fact that there is much talk about the possibility of civil war that is deadly serious.

Radical right-wing religious broadcaster Rick Wiles recently said the liberal politicians “are compelling calm, law-abiding, middle-class American citizens to prepare for the unthinkable: a violent civil war in America fought between the pagan left and the religious right.” He went on to say to his audience, “I strongly encourage you to take immediate action to prepare your home and family for the worst. Don’t foolishly dismiss my warning that a revolution could erupt, or widespread civil disruptions, even civil war.”

Stuart Rhodes, leader of Oath Keepers, a neo-militia group made up of current and former law enforcement officers, declared, “This is the truth. This is where we are. We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are. And the Right has ZERO trust or respect for anything the left is doing. We see THEM as illegitimate.” Add to this the fact that there is some troubling questions about where the military might fall if widespread armed conflict breaks out.

A lot of ordinary Americans agree that the U.S. is moving from a cold civil war to a hot civil war. A 2018 national telephone and online survey from Rasmussen Reports finds that 31 percent of likely U.S. voters think it’s probable that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years. Eleven percent say it’s very likely. An even more recent study, a new Georgetown University poll, seems still darker. It found that the majority of Americans believe, irrelevant to party or region where they live, the country is “two-thirds of the way to internecine bloodshed.”

David C. Barker, professor of political science at America University in Washington, D.C, said, “We think the most likely outcome for 2020 and beyond is that the country divides even further. It sounds hyperbolic that we could be heading toward a civil war, but I don’t know that that’s completely out of the question.” He went on to point out that surveys indicate 15 to 20 percent of people say that violence against political adversaries is called for.

But why has the country come to this point? Some blame Obama. Others point to Trump. Both are inadequate answers.

In a recent article C. Bradley Thompson wrote, “There are now two Americas, and the division is not between the ‘haves’ and the ‘not haves’ or between whites and blacks.” So what is it? “His answer: “The coastal, blue state, Ivy-educated Ruling Elite has contempt for flyover, red state, trailer park deplorables. And vice versa.”

He is, I believe, exactly wrong! This is a narrative created and propagated by the real “Ruling Elite,” the wealthy elite who own media empires and buy political influence through large campaign contributions. These are the ones pulling the strings for their own advantage, not college professors or most other professionals. And if you don’t think the yacht, Lamborghini, and Rolex crowd have contempt for the “trailer park deplorables,” you are delusional.

Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). Abraham Lincoln drew from these words of Jesus in his famous pre-Civil War speech given in Springfield, Illinois, in 1858 in which he insisted that the nation could not be two things at the same time. It could not be half slave and half free. He recognized that some differences are so fundamental that they cannot be resolved through compromise.

And the present day United States can’t have white, anxiety-soothing, conservative, minority rule and be a diverse, genuinely democratic country at the same time. The country can’t cater to the interests of the oligarchy and allow them overwhelming influence and, at the same time, have a government that is attentive to the needs of the vast majority of us. It must be one or the other. These are the conflicts at the heart of the division, the suspicion, the mutual hostility, and disdain that grips the U.S. And unlike smaller issues, they can’t be compromised away.

As one insightful commentator has pointed out, if a new civil war comes, “it won’t just be a war of white supremacists and Trump cultists against the rest of us…but a war between those comfortable with oligarchy (indeed, embracing it, as it promises them safety and stability) versus those who believe in democracy.”

As I look toward the 2020 presidential election, I don’t see the possibility — perhaps even the likelihood — of deadly conflict disappearing, no matter who is elected. It seems we are at an impasse. Mutually exclusive futures are before the country. And this is tearing America apart. But as Lincoln recognized, the country can’t be two utterly opposed things at the same time. And so the situation is explosive.

What can we do to avert civil war? There are no easy answers, and there is nothing we can do that will guarantee a pleasing outcome. We certainly cannot stop advocating and agitating for justice for all, for greater inclusion, influence, and equality for those who have been marginalized. That is not an option! But we can temper the rhetoric and refuse to demonize those who stand opposed to the future we want to see. We must, as scripture says, be a people who are “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

We must also recommit ourselves to nonviolent love. As we struggle for justice, we need to maintain a priority of peaceableness. As Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). Sadly, the “enemies” we need to love are fellow citizens and even brothers and sister in Christ, though at times we may find it difficult to recognize them as such. But regardless of what others do, we need to reject deadly force.

Finally, we need to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are not alone in our struggles, even as we face the dreadful possibility of a new civil war. It is important that we acknowledge our dependence on One greater than ourselves who alone can make the world come out right. We go to God, trusting that “God moves in a mysterious way / God’s wonders to perform.” We do not know when, and we do not know how. So, in the face of uncertainty, we “persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

May God help us find a way to a more positive, peaceful, and just future.

About The Author

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Craig M. Watts is author of "Bowing Toward Babylon: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America" (Cascade Books 2017), an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, and a life-long peace activist.

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