Matthew Holland: Gettysburg and the 'new proposition' of American politics

By Matthew Holland

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Nov. 17 2013 12:18 a.m. MST

With thanks to Lincoln as much as anyone, any question about America’s current commitment to the doctrine of the Declaration is now erased. This is not to say that America is a perfect utopia of freedom. It is to say that nobody taken seriously today would argue for the existence of inherent inequalities naturally entitling one person to rule over another. But, what of those today who hold that America must answer to the people and to God? To be sure, the country still leads the world in retaining a commitment to the free exercise of religion, and plenty of citizens continue openly to take both public and private cues from their understanding of a divine order to things. Yet, the costs and restrictions for such citizens in doing so appear to be on the rise, at least in some quarters. If, in Lincoln’s day, America’s dedication to human equality was propositional where a national embrace of God’s providential role was basically a given, today the reverse seems to be true. The full significance and extent to which this is true is impossible to say. However, a genuine grasp of the whole wisdom of the Gettysburg Address should brace us for any coming test as a nation of faith, even as it leads us to a just celebration of the progress we have made in extending liberty to all.

Matthew Holland is the president of Utah Valley University and a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board.

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