House Divided Thesis
Before Abraham Lincoln and license plates throughout SEC country made it famous, Jesus said that a house divided against itself will not be able to stand.
He reiterates that point in the context of the Church that will grow out of his ministry in the High Priestly Prayer at the end of John’s Gospel, but this Sunday, we will hear it in the context of Mark’s third chapter, as Jesus is being denounced as “out of his mind” and “Beelzebul.” As Episcopalians, we will hear this text two weeks out from the opening of the 78th General Convention, which is always a time of great contention and consternation, and on the heels of a report (albeit one with an obvious agenda behind it) that The Episcopal Church is set to rack up more than million in legal fees on litigation against former members. And yet, as I begin to research and write my thesis for a Doctor of Ministry degree at Sewanee, I came upon a short book, written by the Rev. William Reed Huntington in 1891 called In that text, he devotes a whole chapter to the argument, prevalent even in 1891 it seems, that The Episcopal Church was a house divided. Huntington’s day and age, the issue was the ongoing debates between the High, Low, and Broad Church parties, but you could easily bring the conversation forward 120 years and exchange it for debates over human sexuality or church structure or whatever.
It is useful and refreshing to engage with single texts, but perhaps more sustained attention to these writings, and to the larger themes that link them, might have been even more fruitful.
Allen Guelzo’s (Knopf, 2006) provide alternate paths to understanding Lincoln’s mind.
The selections lean heavily to the political, especially in the last two sections, as is perhaps appropriate, but it is illustrative that some of the more self-revelatory writings such as the Springfield Farewell are not included.
Lowenthal here is above all interested in Lincoln’s mind, not in his personality or life.
Scott Mc Nealey’s glib admonition about the loss of privacy – “Get over it!
” – is no longer the flip realism of a Silicon Valley seer but a sinister warning.
When considering Lincoln’s “Temperance Address” of 1842, Lowenthal notes that “Lincoln writes his speech in such a way as apparently to praise the temperance revolution while, deeper down, criticizing it” (48), an example of the “conventional surface” covering Lincoln’s heterodoxy.
It is perhaps our loss that Lowenthal chose instead to adopt an episodic, pointillistic approach to the mind of a man who was a deeply historically oriented thinker, always looking backward as a first step forward.
But as Lowenthal aptly notes, Lincoln “had this rare ability to join inflexible principles to the needs of particular cases” (285), and these sketches are well adapted to bring out this element in our most admired philosopher statesman.
Perhaps the main theme is that Lincoln was an adept practitioner of the “politics of self-restraint,” meaning that he often had to express himself on issues “where frank speech was not prudently possible and where much greater harm than good would have come from it” (4).
This restrained politician is actually revolutionary, or at least disruptive, for he challenges “dearly held beliefs” all the while preserving “a conventional surface” (3).