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Art Callaham: Splintering is the enemy of GOP

February 10, 2013|By ART CALLAHAM

A couple of weeks ago, a visiting priest, the Rev. Daniel Webster, canon in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, gave an interesting sermon on “splintering.” One of his singular statements, concerning the universal Christian Church was: “Since the time of Christ, we have been very good at splintering — you know, dividing up into separate groups.”

A short lesson in Christian theology: Jesus taught and Saint Paul reiterated the basic Christian principle that God’s grace is for everyone, and everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Rich or poor, black or white, good or bad, old or young, male or female — you pick it; regardless of form, all are equal. Yet, within the universal church, within denominations, within individual churches, and even within local circles and Sunday school classes, we often splinter on specific issues.

To quote the Gospel according to John (11:35), “Jesus wept.” I suspect that means God weeps every time splintering occurs within Christendom. I also suspect that within the confines and teachings of all the great and less-than-great world religions, there are similar principles abhorring fractioning. Even nonbelievers realize that coming together is better than falling apart.

But we love to splinter. Often in a church, we get a potential member who arrives looking for God and just gets “church.” More often, that’s church in members’ terms and habits with little about God.

“Hello, I’m Bubba. I’m looking for God.”

“Sure Bubba, welcome to our church. God’s here every Sunday at 8 a.m., and appears with guitars and the choir at 10:30. See you then. By the way, do you want to be on the vestry? And here’s your pledge card.”

Sure, that example is a bit overstated, but we often assume that our way (in this example, the church’s way and not God’s way) is the right way. Like Canon Webster said, “Came looking for God, just got church.” Why did God’s church splinter? Perhaps it forgot God and emphasized the church. Many mainstream denominations are suffering a decline in membership, while more people (at least in America) are looking for God.

As I shift points from religion to politics, note the irony in the name of the religious leader from the Episcopal Church mentioned in this column — Daniel Webster.  Canon Webster spoke eloquently against the problems associated with splintering in religions, while the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Webster is noted for being the major cause of splintering the Whig party in the antebellum period during the American Civil War era. (The Whig party is considered a predecessor of the current Republican Party.)

What about splintering today in political parties? In the late 1970s, Gov. Jimmy Carter swept into the presidency on the backs of a substantial margin of registered and voting Democrats over Republicans. For the first time since the Kennedy/Johnson era, Democrats were united and won easily. Nearly a decade of splintering among Democrats came to an end.

But, four years later, a splintered Democrat Party (still holding a significant edge in registered voters nationwide) lost the White House to a united Republican Party, heralding the Reagan/Bush era. For 12 years, the Democrats remained splintered over defense spending and social issues. Finally, an unknown former Arkansas governor running on no particular agenda reunited the Democrats when George H.W. Bush said “read my lips” about taxes and blinked internationally when it came to finishing the first Iraq War. The Republicans, nationally, splintered.

Don’t think Republicans have splintered locally? In the 2012 Republican primary election for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, seven — count them, seven — candidates ran against a nine-term incumbent. Splintered district?

In Maryland, as a whole, the state Democratic Party remains solid. Sure, every 40 years or so, a Republican gets elected governor. But the Democrats remain in power. Why? I believe the Democrats work at appealing to a broad base with something for everyone, while local and state Republicans create uncompromising “issue barriers” to being united.

“Hello, I’m Bubba. I’m looking for a conservative political party.”

“Sure, Bubba, welcome to the Republican party. The true conservatives meet here every day to reject compromise. You don’t like illegal immigrants, do you? How about gays? You’re not a union man are you? By the way, here’s your “no tax” pledge card. I know you’ll sign it.”

Oops, splintered again.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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