Earlier this week I arrived home from two weeks in Israel. It was an exciting time as the new US Embassy opened, and we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Israeli statehood. We traveled throughout Galilee, and spent several days in Jerusalem.
Several things stood out to me, but here are two that pertain greatly to our own lives as Americans.
As we traveled and interacted with the people, I was struck by a great paradox. On the one hand, they are robust in their disagreements over religious, political, and economic issues … just like we are. Yet, on the other hand, I have never seen a people so united. Far more important than any of their differences is a radical commitment to their shared situation. While the people of Israel come from different countries, in different shapes, sizes, and colors, they coalesce around one over-arching truth. They are all Israeli, and they know their survival as a people and a nation depends on them preferring the nation over their individual desires.
It wasn’t so long ago that the same thing could be said for us. Benjamin Franklin put it simply. “If we don’t hang together we will surely hang separately!” Like Israel, America in our infancy recognized that the foundation of our unity had to be a staunch refusal to allow differences to fracture our shared commitment to the ideals and values that formed our democracy. As I walked around Israel, I realized that, sadly, they still have their ideals and values firmly in hand, while we are working hard to erode ours at every turn.
The second thing that struck me actually relates to the first. As we visited shops and sites around the country it was common to see a group of young uniformed military recruits being tutored by an older officer. When I asked about it, I was informed that it is customary to instill in new recruits a deep passion for their history as a people, and a nation. They visited the same ancient sites we did, learned about the 3000 years of their struggle as a people, and came to realize just what being an Israeli meant. The man who explained it all to me put it well. “They need to know what they’re trying preserve, protect, and pass on to the next generation.”
Sadly, I have to wonder just what the emerging generations here at home are leaning about the grand heritage of these United States. I greatly fear the values and morals upon which our democracy was built are now steadily being eroded through the deadly combination of liberalism on the left and neglect on the right. And all you have to do is look around to see the destabilizing effect.
It is common now to hear America is more divided than ever, and certainly we are living in the midst of more violence and less civility than I can remember. The safeguards of moral restraint, self-discipline, and sacrificial service to God and country are more often described as impediments to individual flourishing than the foundational pillars of a healthy society.
Is it too late? Have we lost a unifying sense of where we’ve come from, what we stand for, and who we are as citizens of the greatest country on earth? If so, we only have ourselves to blame.
But it is not too late. It is not too late to reclaim our birthright as those who refuse to allow our differences to become so deep that our national soul is fractured pitting neighbor against neighbor. It is not too late to admit that driving God to the margins has left us without moral boundaries. It is not too late to realize that a nation cannot play fast and loose with the truth without encountering the quagmire of pragmatism. And it is not too late to teach our children our history, and instill in them a fear of God, a love for our neighbors, and a passion to be the people America needs them to be.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.