Preserve, protect, and defend . . .

Isn’t it odd that we use the term: “conservative” to speak of those most ready to relinquish America’s heritage, and “liberal” to speak of those most anxious to preserve it?

Isn’t it odd that the so-called “conservatives” are the ones readiest to wave the flag and yet also the ones most ready to act as other countries act rather than as Americans ought to act?

Is it, I wonder, in part at least a continuing effect of the American Civil War, in which it was the southern states that defended a traditional way of life inconsistent with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and therefore could think of themselves as “conservatives” as opposed to those trying to change things (i.e. “Liberals”) whose goal was to conform more nearly with our stated ideals? Isn’t it still the former slave states in which the strongest support is found for “doing whatever it takes,” moral or immoral, Constitutional or unconstitutional, to “preserve our way of life?”

The problem is that this country began in schizophrenia with a declaration of principles which, in fact, it was very far from accepting. “All men are created equal” we said, yet we created a Constitution that counted a slave as three-fifths of a person and gave the slave not even three-fifths of a vote. Ever since, it has been the liberals who have agitated for a fuller observance of those principles and the conservatives who have tried to prevent it. Thus it is a call for change to call for recognition of American values.

Someone has said that Christianity is a wonderful faith but it has never been tried. Even more truly, the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights set forth wonderful ideals – but we have yet to accept them as a nation.

When the former vice-president says, “no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them.,” it is clear that no moral values have final authority for him.

Through the years of conflict over slavery, through the women’s suffrage movement, through the Palmer raids and McCarthy era, we have continued to work out the real meaning of our central documents. There have always been those who agitated for change in line with our ideals and others who resist change in the belief that whatever we have done before and whatever we need to do to prevent changing it is the American way. We find ourselves today engaged in one further episode in that continuing struggle. God willing, we will use it to move forward toward a fuller realization of ancient ideals.

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