Thistlethwaite: Rededicate the Capitol building
Our democracy was attacked on Wednesday when a pro-Trump group of what are rightly called domestic terrorists attacked the United States Capitol building.
They stormed into the beating heart of our democracy and attempted to stop it functioning. It did not. It kept on beating, pumping out the blood of law that gives life to democracy. After hiding in bathrooms and behind barricades of furniture, our lawmakers returned to their House and Senate chambers. They spoke. They voted. The rightly affirmed the Electoral College vote making Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris the next president and vice president of the United States.
Pictures of this attack were nevertheless a body blow to the self-understanding of the United States as a democracy where the smooth transfer of power is the norm. Other nations watched in shock and were appalled. Of course they were.
This was an assault on the best thing we have, the purpose of this nation and the core value to which we must, right now, rededicate ourselves without reservation.
Abraham Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg go to the heart of democracy. He spoke them looking out at a battlefield soaked with the blood of Americans.
Lincoln asks us, why are we in this terrible, terrible struggle?
We must answer him with his own words, “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.”
I believe, and I have suggested via several email contacts to the incoming administration, that the Capitol building should be rededicated during the inauguration of Biden and Harris as our new president and vice president. The words set on a cornerstone in a Capitol expansion of 1851 should be used as I think they and the history of that moment should pose a precedent and a warning.
On July 4, 1851, a construction project was to begin to expand the Capitol building as five new states had entered the union. The “Compromise of 1850” had paved the way for this, but it was a compromise with slavery. Many hoped that compromise would keep the nation together, but compromise with an evil like slavery can never endure and though they did not know it, terrible war was coming, a war waged because you cannot compromise on core principles like freedom for all people.
So this dedication is both an inspiration and a warning.
“If it shall be the will of God that this structure shall fall from its base, that its foundation be upturned … Be it known that on this day the Union of the United States of America stands firm, that their Constitution still exists unimpaired, and with all its original usefulness and glory; growing every day stronger and stronger in the affections of the great body of the American people, and attracting more and more the admiration of the world.”
This is our history and it must be reaffirmed, over and over, that if you do not protect and strengthen “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” you can lose it in a heartbeat.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.
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