Never did I feel more connected to my fellow man than on September 11, 2001. Call it the naivety of youth (I was a senior in high school), call it patriotism, call it teenage empathy, call it whatever. I felt deeply connected and loving towards all of my countrymen. Angry and sinful men – men who thought they were serving God – sought to kill and destroy, yet they only succeeded at bringing us together as Americans. There, in the violence of Ground Zero, we had our moment of national unity. People lined up out the door to donate blood. Businesses closed for the day. I called all my friends to check up on them. One guy I worked with got the biggest American flag he could find and attached it to his pickup truck; when he drove away you could almost hear it flapping to the rhythm of the Star Spangled Banner. Shirts, bumper stickers, hats starting coming out: United We Stand; Divided We Fall.
Ten minutes later, life got back to normal – only now you couldn’t walk through the airport without a ticket. The flags went back to normal size, the news starting reporting something else, the conspiracy theorists put their tin foil hats back on so they could blame the whole thing on President Bush, and the disappointing cries of peace-lovers started saying, “What happened to all our unity? Why is violence the only thing that unites us?”
There are some phrases that echo incessantly throughout the public square, and none more belaboring than the Cheshire lament that “America is such a divided nation.” I don’t want to mince words: I hate this phrase. Every time I hear it—right, left, center—the subtext of the speaker is that if you don’t want to be divided, then you will agree with me. Unity is based on the common value of whatever value I want to be common. If you disagree, then you are causing disunity.
Not only do I hate that phrase, but I am glad America is divided. It means the experiment is working. One of the only shared ideals that unifies Americans is the enshrined doctrine of being able to disagree with each other. An argument can be made that disunity is what unifies Americans philosophically and actually. Wrap your constitutional head around that. The “unity” that you hear every politician clamoring for since George Washington is not the lock-step [Jackbooted?] agreement of any single policy or ideal, but actually the sacred right of having your own opinion without fear of being shot for it.
So if we’ve made unity disappear into disunity on the national stage, wherefore is actual unity?
Still through violence. Just like the violence of 9/11 united us temporarily as Americans, the violence of the cross unites us eternally as Christians. Kingdoms rise and fall. Relationships come and go. Buildings are built and razed. The Word of God stands forever. Angry and sinful men – men who thought they were serving God – sought to kill and destroy, and they did. They dragged him out of the garden, into the praetorium, pushed him down the Way of Sorrows and hoisted him on a cross. There, in the violence of Calvary, we found our unity.
There is no such thing as true and lasting unity apart from Christ or outside of the church. Anyone trying to tell you otherwise is hiding a knife behind his back.