Abraham Lincoln is considered by many historians to have been our nation’s greatest president. As polarized as we seem to be today, Lincoln held office in a time that puts our current impasses to shame. The years preceding, during, and after the Civil War were the most conflicted years in the history of our nation.
We may think that the political discourse today is dismal, but it’s nothing compared to the Civil War era. One of Lincoln’s detractors wrote that, not only did he think Lincoln was obviously incompetent to be President, the writer even went so low as to compare his facial features to that of an gorilla (which I don’t see at all; a giraffe maybe).
Yet when war broke out, Lincoln named this man as the Secretary of War. The president’s advisors were appalled and dismayed that Lincoln would choose one of his political opponents for such a critical post. They argued that he should be trying to destroy his enemies, not promote them.
Lincoln replied that he promoted this man because he was the best person for the job. Besides, Lincoln continued, the best way to destroy your enemies is to turn them into your friends. That man, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, was at the president’s bedside as he breathed his last. As Lincoln passed away, Stanton said, “There dies the greatest ruler of mankind the world has ever seen.”
Abraham Lincoln was a true statesman. He realized that love and reconciliation were a better answer to the polarization of his day than accusation and acrimony. If only our leaders and politicians today would come to this same conclusion.
Many of us, myself included, despair at the fractured state of our nation. We are anxious about the future of The United Methodist Church. Even in the midst of our conflicts, however, let us never forget the grace that has been extended to us. In turn let us have the love of Christ in our hearts as we extend that grace to others—even to our enemies.