Growing up in the United States, I began every school morning by facing the American flag and repeating what is called the “Pledge of Allegiance.” When I was in third grade I had to adjust to the addition of the phrase “under God” which had just been inserted in light of a “Communist threat” said to be afoot. The “Pledge” was such a normal part of the day that I never gave it much thought until high school.
In high school, as I became more aware of racial injustice and the conflict now known as the Vietnam War, I found it difficult to recite the Pledge, and merely stood while it was repeated. And in recent years when flag salutes and the national anthem are regular parts of many events, I still struggle with the disparity between the ideals of my country and its reality.
This morning, as my nation reveals itself to be nearly evenly divided between two very different visions, I reflected back to one word in the Pledge–indivisible. Written in 1892, only thirty years after the Civil War, the Pledge stressed that we were one country, not two as had existed for the brief time of the Confederate States of America. The voting on November 4 starkly demonstrates that we are quite divisible. And as Abraham Lincoln said, echoing the New Testament, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” While he was referring to slavery and freedom, the same truth prevails today.
Democracy on the grand scale of our country remains a fragile experiment. Unless we find our way forward together, I am afraid the experiment will come to an untimely end.