A week from today, “The Response: South Carolina” hits town.
“South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has invited all of us, young and older, from all denominations, ethnicities, racial backgrounds, and languages to come to Charleston, to pray and fast for our country on June 13th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at North Charleston Coliseum.”
Some folks will condemn Haley’s role in that event as pandering to the religious right.
But judge not that current event lest ye judge a bygone era when “The Greatest Generation” was earning that title.
Seventy-one years ago today, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, hailed a higher power in a message to the brave men about to invade Europe. He began: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.”
Eisenhower’s prayerful pep talk ended: “We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his radio announcement to the nation on that same D-Day, also sounded a holy-war theme. Some of what he said after asking Americans “to join with me in prayer”:
“Almighty God: our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.”
Roosevelt ended by seeking “Thy blessing” to “lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”
Back then, many Americans, including those in charge, deemed World War II an “Onward Christian Soldiers” — or at least “Onward Judeo-Christian Soldiers” — mission.
Even today, many Americans argue that this has always been a “Christian nation.”
No it hasn’t.
Sure, Union troops and their fans sang Julia Ward Howe’s vengeful lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the U.S. military “loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword” on the South in the 19th century Civil War.
Sure, the 20th century Civil Rights Movement triumphed thanks to the overdue, overwhelmingly righteous case pressed by religious leaders — particularly the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
However, from a familiar 21st century update last month of an ongoing trend:
“The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center.”
Thus, as we blunder through a confusing conflict against Islamic radicalism, we’re much less inclined than we once were to say: “A mighty fortress is our God, not your God.”
OK, so to borrow a phrase from then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, some folks still “cling to guns or religion.”
Yet Bible-quoting political rhetoric isn’t confined to the dwindling opposition by some on the right (though not this libertarian-leaning conservative) to gay marriage.
For instance, some liberals cite Jesus in their calls for wealth redistribution, as in:
Take from the rich and give to the poor.
Or was that Robin Hood?
Regardless, a Gallup poll released last week revealed Americans’ accelerating leftward lurch on social issues.
And if you lack faith in that conclusion, ponder another then-and-now contrast:
In 2008, voters in California approved an amendment outlawing gay marriage.
Last week, a football coach in South Carolina — Clemson’s Dabo Swinney — canceled his scheduled appearance to receive an award from the Palmetto Family Council after being criticized because that organization is still against gay marriage.
But before sanctimoniously chastising Swinney, Christians, Obama, Jews, Haley, heathens, Muslims, infidels, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Pagans, Shintoists, Wiccans, Sikhs, heretics or even Scientologists, remember, our First Amendment freedom of religion includes the freedom to reject religion.
Remember, too, this paradoxical reminder from another politician:
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”
That was Abraham Lincoln, citing “both” Civil War sides during his second Inaugural Address six weeks before he was assassinated.
So whose (or is that Whose?) aid do you invoke “against the other”?
And on this D-Day anniversary, what would Ike and FDR do?
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.