Monday, July 1, 2013
God's Side, Internet Domain
Gettysburg Cemetery, Internet Domain
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. --–President Abraham Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the Soldier’s Cemetery in Gettysburg, November 19, 1863
This July 1 to July 3 marks the passage of 150 years since 165,000 men of the US Army and the Confederate force faced one another in 1863 across a farm field around a Pennsylvania town named after James Gettys. More than 50,000 would be causalities in some form and around 9,000 would be killed as the ravine dissecting the field was said to run red with blood on those three days. That somber statistic represents six times the carnage encountered years later on D-Day, June 6, 1944, on the beaches of France. The contentious issue of slavery was at the epicenter of this civil war and had been deferred during the eighty seven years after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The new coalition of states was supposedly united in the cause of freedom from tyrannical rule and the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal”.
Thomas Jefferson had actually drafted and submitted legislation to Congress to begin abolishing slavery in America, but it was defeated by only one vote. As president he introduced legislation to end the importation of slaves, but it would seem that he was later resigned to the culture of his time and pressing the absolution cause would undermine his credibility to influence any other cause. He later wrote that “we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and Heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped it will not always be silent and that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail”. Jefferson the politian began to “kick the can down the road” (sound familiar?) and talked about postponing a resolution for the next generation.
People defending slavery in those days used biblical scripture to make their point. Slavery was an integral part of first century culture as Jesus walked the dusty roads of ancient Israel. But his primary mission was to secure redemption for all mankind. Cultural norms such as slavery and the subordination of women were left for future generations to resolve—even though they did not reflect God’s heart and will. Later, in one of his letters to the early Christians at Ephesus, Paul writes “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear…Masters, treat your slaves in the same way…remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites”. Slave owners were quick to quote the first line of this passage. Redemption infers buying back from captivity by paying a ransom. In Old Testament times, the lives of mortal sinners were redeemed by animal blood sacrifices on stone alters. Jesus redeemed the lives of all mankind with his blood sacrifice on a brutal Roman cross. Thousands of Americans redeemed the deferred American dream of freedom for millions of slaves with their blood sacrifice on the battleground of a Gettysburg farm field.
The contentious battle ended on a hot and humid July 3 day after the Confederate army was repulsed in an extraordinarily dicey decision by General Lee to challenge the center of the Union defenses. Picket’s Charge seemed to be doomed from the outset and it is said that cannon shot left human extremities, guns and knapsacks tossed into the clear air above a dense cloud of smoke and dust. Years later when General Picket was asked why his charge failed, he replied “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it”. And perhaps heaven was not silent on this day.