E pluribus unum, out of many, one, has been the unofficial motto of the United States since the earliest days of the republic. Out of thirteen colonies, one nation. The motto, officially superseded in 1956 by "In God We Trust", still appears on the great seal of the United States and on much of its coinage.
We speak often of the divisiveness which pervades life in this country now and wonder if in fact we are one, or are we many pulling in our separate directions with no common purpose, no unity? Was it ever thus? We only need to look back to the mid-nineteenth century to see the country rent asunder by differing views of slavery and states rights, leading to the loss of some 750,000 lives by some estimates. Did the civil war ever really end, or did it morph into ongoing conflicts over immigration, race, religion, nationality, money, and on and on?
In my own seventy years I recall the violent divisions over desegregation with the bill-boards demanding "Impeach Earl Warren" to the fire hoses of Bull Conner in Birmingham to various governors standing in school-house doors. This was followed quickly by the internal conflict over the war in Vietnam and the other seemingly endless wars we have fought. We are violently divided over access to guns and access to abortion among so many other things.
The notion of this country as a melting pot where people from many places, many cultures became one with shared values and shared goals seems not to work any more.
Perhaps we as Christians have another metaphor which might help. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks about the differing parts of the body having differing roles. "If the ear would say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, that wouldn't make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would hearing be?' . . ."
In the Church we affirming that we are different, with different gifts, different abilities, different callings, but we use them all to the building up of the whole body. Thus we work together for the good of all.
Perhaps in our nation we can recognize that we do have different gifts, different beliefs, different insights. How do we come to an understanding of the common good to which we all aspire? Looking to the founding documents may help. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." We are clearly not there yet, but if we have a common aspiration to equality, perhaps we can become more of one out of many.