A House Divided
... Can and Shall Stand. Here's How.
Thanksgiving is the only
American holiday in which an act of prayer is front and center. On Thanksgiving
Day the President of the United States will lead the nation in a prayer. This
happens at a time when the nation is deeply divided over the appropriate connections
between politics and piety, church and state. It happens at a time when the law
forbids a public school principal from doing exactly what the President is doing,
and if he or she did try to lead such a prayer, the same government which the
President heads would step in and forbid it.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court
continues to wrestle with the place of prayer in our public schools, and Congress
passionately debates legislation designed to circumvent prior court decisions.
Ironically, in countless local communities across the United States, people of
different faith traditions will gather in a common act of prayer on Thanksgiving
Day, even though their understanding of what such prayer signifies varies wildly.
More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving has been the time for ecumenical
and interfaith services all across this country; yet, it is also a holiday which
reflects the deep divisions and fissures in American society perhaps more than
It was Abraham Lincoln who, rephrasing Scripture, said:
"A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Yet our differences
over the proper place of faith in our nation's public life clearly show no signs
of being resolved. Today it is becoming clearer and clearer that consensus on
such issues is impossible. We are coming to realize that a nation divided over
questions of basic belief and practice cannot stand .... unless there is a greater
degree of appreciation for religious difference than there has been in the past.
Also required is an appreciation of the experience and point of view of those
who have no religion.
Unless we disenthrall ourselves of the notion that
the purpose of Christianity or any other religion is to triumph over all others,
it is likely that the Scripture's warning about the nation's fall may prove relevant
at this time in our history.
On the other hand, as we learn to appreciate
and even celebrate our differences, then all Americans shall truly have something
to be thankful for.
May the house in which we render thanks be large
enough and welcoming enough to include even those who are not prepared to pray!
As a Christian I have my own view of what this holiday is all about.
While my view is informed by the Bible specifically, and the insights into the
nature of thanksgiving communicated by Jesus Christ in particular, I believe that
lessons drawn from this tradition may be helpful to a wider constituency. Whether
you consider yourself Christian or not, I invite your thoughtful reaction to editorials
I have written about this holiday, revealing as it is of the state of a nation's
The Essence of Thanksgiving
A visitor to America from outer space in late November might conclude that we worship the turkey goddess. So what is the deeper meaning of this holiday, with its sometimes conflicting themes?
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.