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The author of redemption is not the Lord but “the people.” The story Lincoln tells begins with its own creation account.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the opening verse of Genesis declares. Ever since Lincoln’s death there have been countless efforts to “baptize him posthumously,” as Christian scholar Allen Guelzo notes in his marvelous biography, .

Read broadly, Lincoln’s address is a masterful effort to situate the tragedy of the American Civil War in a larger story of redemption.

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One hundred fifty-three years ago today, on November 19th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln shared “brief remarks” at the dedication of a national military cemetery on the site of the recent battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“How dare he,” thundered the editor, “standing on their graves, misstate the cause for which they died, and libel the statesmen who founded the government?

They were men possessing too much self-respect to declare that negroes were their equals, or were entitled to equal privileges.” As a historian, I see northern Democrats’ response to the Address as understandable (although their reading of history was just as one-sided as Lincoln’s).

In the beginning “our fathers brought forth” the United States, Lincoln proclaims. Guezlo argues persuasively, however, that although Lincoln was biblically literate and far from an atheist, he nevertheless died unconvinced of the gospel.

What is more, although he employed biblical rhetoric and adopted biblical cadences in his speeches, he rarely if ever referred to the Bible as authoritative.

As a Christian historian, I am more disappointed by the way that Republican evangelicals across the North embraced Lincoln’s speech, for it contained elements that they should have found troubling.

For one thing, the Address is a classic example of rhetoric that conflates sacred and secular.

And so the Republican leader wasted no time in defending his administration when he helped to dedicate the new military cemetery in Gettysburg, even though he never once referred to emancipation explicitly. At worst misleading, at best debatable, it rested on a highly selective reading of the country’s founding.

For years Lincoln had been insisting that his desire to end slavery was in keeping with the original vision of the Founding Fathers.

To consecrate is to “set apart as sacred to God.” Something that has been consecrated is now “holy.” When the great “I AM” spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He informed the trembling herdsman that he was standing on holy ground. In his choice of words the president was draping the state with religious imagery and eternal significance, and that, however well-intended, is a form of what Christian scholar Steven Woodworth aptly labels “patriotic heresy.” Second, Lincoln suggested that the blood of the Union dead justified the Union cause.

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