January 25, 2020

The Second American Civil War

An advertisement for the Atlantic Monthly (Dec. 2019) read:

“We don’t believe that the conditions in the United States today resemble those of 1850s America. But we worry that the ties that bind us are fraying at alarming speed—we are becoming contemptuous of each other in ways that are both dire and possibly irreversible,” writes editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg in an introduction to The Atlantic’s December issue, “How to Stop a Civil War.” “The American experiment as we know it is not guaranteed to be eternal.”

The American experiment as we know it is not guaranteed to be eternal. In other words, the lamblike beast of Revelation 13 will speak “like a dragon” (Rev. 13:11) and “cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed” (verse 15). That’s not what the ad said but for prophecy to be fulfilled what the ad said must come to pass.

I remember the rancor, the division (even the Weathermen bombings here in the United States), over the Vietnam War. In 1972, at 16-years old, I got my first taste of tear gas at an antiwar protest. (I wasn’t even protesting!) Yet even at the height of the incandescence, such as after Kent State, I never remember, never—anyone talking about civil war.

But now one of this nation’s oldest and most respected magazines puts out an issue titled “How to Stop a Civil War,” as if expecting one unless we find a way to stop it?

Scary stuff.

The nation has gotten scary. Really. Things are not the way they used to be, at least in terms of the political, social, and cultural divide that has always existed here, which, however rancorous at times, has never—with the major exception of the first American Civil War—threatened to void the “United” of the United States. But now a renown American publication wonders out loud if the “American experiment” is going to fail, and its editor warns about how “dire” and even “possibly irreversible” the hatred and contempt have become.

What’s fueling this madness? Social media plays a role, of course. I’m old enough to remember when, unless you were a politician, a print journalist, or a TV news anchor, outside of writing a letter to the editor you barely got your voice heard. Today so many people have their voices heard that we can’t begin to listen to them all, and how often do the ones we do listen to infuriate us?

Left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, it doesn’t matter. Whether Donald Trump is, you think, the anti-Christ or all but the Second Coming of Christ, it doesn’t matter. The “ties that bind us,” warned Goldberg, are fraying in ways that I don’t think this country, even counting the American Civil War, has ever experienced.

I used to love talking politics. Whether pushing the buttons of left-wingers or razzing right-wingers I never lost a friendship over taxes, gun control, abortion, whatever. Now people will hate you, spit on you, or unfriend you on Facebook over who is allowed to use what bathroom. To bring up politics with a fellow citizen isn’t playing with dynamite but with Uranium-238. It has become crazy.

What has happened to us as a nation—and as a church?

We are Seventh-day Adventists. Our name points to the hope that this present world is not our home but only an unfortunate (and do I mean unfortunate) pit stop until “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44). Our fight is not with flesh and blood, but “against the authorities, the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).

Sure, some flesh and blood issues, whichever side one takes, are important enough to advocate for. But do we have to hate those who take the other side? It seems so. I know, because I also have inhaled the contemptuousness that pollutes the air, and, stepping back, I must by God’s grace transcend it because despising those whom we disagree with politically is not the reason we Seventh-day Adventists are here.

Who knows where this American insanity will, short term, lead? Long term, for prophecy to be fulfilled, radical changes will have to come to this nation. What, specifically, will bring those radical changes we haven’t been told. But whatever causes it, “our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government” and, something like the second American Civil War could, certainly, do the trick.

The Atlantic article, fearing such a civil war, warned about what we already know: the American experiment is going to unravel, even fail. Perhaps it’s already beginning to?

Scary stuff.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.

1) Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., vol. 5, p. 451.