Could America’s great poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, see more than 150 years into the future?
On a Christmas Day in the midst of the Civil War, Longfellow wrote the words to the beloved song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Every verse ends with the phrase, “... peace on Earth, good will to men.”
But in the middle of the poem, Longfellow reveals despair at the state of his world. He writes:
“‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, For hate is strong and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Longfellow had every reason to feel hopeless during our nation’s bloodiest conflict.
After America’s past week that saw the impeachment of a president, some people say our nation stands more bitterly divided than at any time since those Civil War days.
In his time of crisis, Longfellow found comfort in the sound of church bells.
However, fewer Americans than ever will find themselves in church pews on this Sunday before Christmas.
For the first time in our history, more Americans say they attend religious services only a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%). Only 49% of Americans in the Millennial generation (ages 23-38) identify as Christians.
When I muster up the courage to look at Facebook, I find my diverse group of friends quarreling not only about politics, but also about religion.
Even as the number of U.S. Christians is shrinking, many of those who remain spend their energy nitpicking about who is a better Christian or genuine Christian.
Still others complain like one Facebook post I found recently, whining that “it has become socially acceptable to hate white people, Christians and traditional families.”
I’m not a Christian who wastes a lot of time worrying about whether the culture is persecuting us.
The last I noticed, no one is preventing me from going to church whenever I want. No one is forcing me to attend a particular church. No one is dictating what I believe about God, Jesus and the Bible, although Facebook makes me worry that some people would love to do exactly that.
As church membership dwindles, Christians cannot afford to be culling people from the flock over theological disagreements. We should give thanks that America offers many flavors of Christianity, instead of forcing everyone to eat vanilla.
In our political tastes, most of us have divided into two strong flavors that are nothing alike. The past week’s events raised the heat until it’s threatening a national meltdown.
Those of us who still believe Christmas is about the birth of the Prince of Peace offer the best hope of healing and reuniting America.
This December, we must be Christians first, and conservatives or liberals secondarily.
Starting this Christmas season, we must show good will toward all — even those who disagree with us, as difficult as that may be.
We can find hope in the very next verse Longfellow wrote after expressing his despair:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Longfellow wrote those words at a time when the future of our nation hung in doubt. Yet, we’re still here, all these years later. Our ancestors survived the Civil War, and we can survive our impeachment crisis of 2019-2020. Pledge yourself to be part of the reason we pull through, instead of a reason we fall apart.
Dave Kurtz is the executive editor of KPC Media Group newspapers. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.