Phil Gulley: A New Civil War?

I recently spent a week in Virginia with Episcopalians. A nice lady picked me up at the airport, and on the way to the retreat center, she told me the event had been declared a political-free zone and I couldn’t say anything about politics. When people hire me to speak, they’re aware my political views are informed by my religious beliefs, so I was unsure how I could avoid any mention of our current troubles, and not at all sure I wanted to. Fortunately, the political-free rule didn’t take, and within a few hours, everyone was groaning and grumbling about the surplus of idiots in Washington.

There’s a lot of talk these days about a new civil war breaking out in America, which is nonsense, since wars have always depended upon a healthy supply of eager, young people willing to get off their duffs, travel long distances, and be shot at. Quite frankly, I don’t think most younger Americans have it in them. I was chatting with a recent high school graduate who quit his job when he was asked to work the occasional Saturday. There’s no way someone like that is going to cheerfully volunteer to give up his weekends. Not when he can stay home and play video games.

To be fair, even people my age lack the moxie to fight a war. Most days, I need a nap after lunch and I’m out cold on my memory-foam mattress by 10 p.m. I’m not going to sleep in a field, eat bad food, and shoot someone just because we don’t see eye to eye. Heck, I’d have to kill most of the people in my hometown of Danville, many of whom I love, even though I question their political judgment. Maybe I don’t invite them over for hamburgers on the grill as much as I once did, but that doesn’t mean I want them dead.

Coming home from Virginia, my flight from Washington, D.C., to Indianapolis was canceled, and Delta airline said they couldn’t get me home for two more days. By that time, I needed to be in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so I rented a car and drove to Lancaster, via Gettysburg, which I’d always wanted to visit. While the flight mishap was annoying, it allowed me to spend a day traipsing around a battlefield where 160,000 soldiers tried their level best to kill one another 157 years ago. This raises another argument against the possibility of war. If Delta is incapable of flying me from Washington, D.C., to Indianapolis, how in the world can the airlines manage to get 160,000 people to the same place at the same time, with their guns, which they won’t be allowed to bring since they’re not permitted on airplanes? If we have a civil war, young people will have to walk there like the old-timers did (not going to happen) or drive their cars (which they can’t afford because of college debt). The more likely scenario is that our young people will realize the greatest threat to our happiness isn’t one another, but Delta airline.

My skepticism about the possibility of a civil war might be influenced by my sunny disposition, so I polled a handful of Hoosiers to see what they thought. Only one person I asked believed we were headed toward civil war, though I should point out that in the 50 years I’ve known him, he also thought the moon landing was fake and water fluoridation was a Communist plot. Everyone else I questioned acknowledged the trials of this current moment, but believed things would work themselves out once we stopped electing morons to public office and turned off Fox News and MSNBC.

We’re not even sure who would fight whom. Would it be the Democrats against the Republicans, the rural fighting the urban, Protestants vs. Catholics, normal people against mimes?

While at Gettysburg, I visited the National Cemetery, whose opening ceremony inspired Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, five months after the battle. A memorial marks the exact spot where Lincoln stood to deliver the speech he believed no one would bother to remember. I wanted to stand where Lincoln had stood, but there was a fence in the way and a park ranger keeping a close eye on me, so I had to content myself with tracing the sculpted words of the speech with my index finger. Four score and seven years ago …

When 11 states believed it was moral to enslave an entire race of people and 20 states did not, and the 11 were oblivious to this injustice and refused to correct it, our Civil War was inevitable. Today, it’s less clear. We’re not even sure who would fight whom. Would it be the Democrats against the Republicans, the rural fighting the urban, Protestants vs. Catholics, normal people against mimes? This is where the real confusion begins. I’m neither Democrat nor Republican, though I lean to the left. I like leaving my options open just in case an honest and sensible Republican runs for office. As for urban versus rural, I have a home in town and one in the country, the proverbial house divided which cannot stand. My rural neighbors are Quakers and won’t be fighting anyone, and my town neighbor, Brian Ritchie, is too busy watching football to bear arms, so I’m hoping if we end up at war, it will be the townies against the rurals, and I can sit it out. If our division falls across religious lines, I’m screwed. Evangelical Protestants annoy me, so I won’t be joining them. The Catholics will throw me out for asking why women can’t be priests and why their bishops wear funny hats. I wouldn’t stand a chance with either crowd. This leaves us with normal people against mimes, and so long as we’re going after them, let’s include clowns, who also irritate me. If civil war is inevitable, and we find ourselves fighting against clowns and mimes, let’s also go toe-to-toe with people who leave their barking dogs outside at night. My life would be nearly perfect if all the mimes, clowns, and thoughtless dog owners were gone. Now that I think about it, I’m not all that fond of the televangelists either.

Regardless of who fights whom, I hope it doesn’t come down to a civil war, and I don’t think it will. After all, if America can triumph over slavery, depressions, recessions, and corruption, we can surely survive a president who mistakes himself for the King of Kings. Being white, well-off, Christian, and male, I haven’t been personally harmed by this rash of insanity. Instead, the present burdens haven fallen disproportionately upon people of color, the poor, women, religious minorities, and gay folk. I hope when we throw open the windows and air out the house, we’ll rid ourselves of bigotry’s loathsome stench once and for all, so the fresh winds of progress and peace will waft pleasantly, and persistently, across our land.

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor, author, and humorist. Back Home Again chronicles his views on life in Indiana.