When I was 18 years-old I began attending Plainfield Friends Meeting, after the young women at Danville Friends Meeting kept telling me the two things no young man wants to hear─You’re like a brother to me, and I just want to be your friend. So I began attending Plainfield Meeting, hoping the young women there had enough brothers and friends and wanted a boyfriend. I began dating several of them, some of them simultaneously, which I later learned was inadvisable, and I developed something of a reputation as a Quaker rascal.
Then I met Joan and invited her to meeting for worship. She declined, and when I asked why, she said, “You’re like a brother to me.” I pointed out that I had attended church with my brothers for many years. She looked at me, put her finger in my face, and said, “Just church.”
So off we went. We attended several Sundays, then one weekday I went to the meetinghouse to do something and ran into my pastor, Keith Kirk, and began chatting with him. I could sense he wanted to say something to me, and sure enough, after a moment or two, he told me he didn’t think Joan was the person for me, and advised me to be careful. I told him not only was she the right person for me, but that I was going to marry her, if she would have me, which, after 13 proposals, she finally agreed to do, and Keith Kirk officiated at the wedding, though I could sense he was uneasy about marrying us.
I never forgot that. For all my married life, 34 years now, I’ve carried this low-grade irritation for Keith Kirk, thinking he didn’t trust Joan, when it finally, and only recently, occurred to me that Keith trusted Joan. It was me he had doubts about. Because in the few short years he had known me, I had pledged my undying love for all these different women, then had introduced Joan to Keith, telling him, “She’s the one.” And his first thought, justifiably, was, “Yeah, right.” He had every right to think that, because I had been very impulsive in my relationships. Here’s how immature, not to mention arrogant, I was: When he advised me not to marry Joan, I thought he was concerned about a deficiency in her, since nothing could have possibly have been wrong with me. So that was my insight of the week.
It made me think about what we’ve been discussing─the characteristics of healthy, responsible nations. We’ve said in healthy nations, those who can, help those who can’t. In our last time together, we went one step further, saying, those who can, help those who can’t, while holding accountable those who won’t.
Today, I want to discuss another trait of healthy, responsible nations. They give careful thought to their alliances, to their commitments, to their promises, and once made, honor them. They do not behave like hormone-crazed 18 year-olds, allowing their heads to be turned every direction, simply to gratify their ego or satisfy a whim; oblivious to reason, tradition, and wisdom.
Why do healthy, responsible nations make careful commitments and honor them? So other healthy, responsible nations will want to partner with them. Think about this in terms of personal relationships. How often do you see someone who is emotionally and relationally unhealthy attract someone who is emotionally and relationally healthy? What are the chances of that? There might be an initial attraction, but once the emotionally healthy person senses the other person is not healthy, they tend to say, “I just want to be friends,” which is relation-talk for “We have no future.” Because no nation that is healthy and responsible can view an unhealthy, irresponsible nation as a viable partner.
So how do nations become healthy and responsible? Well, the first thing they do is elect healthy and responsible leaders. They look for leaders who conduct themselves faithfully in their personal relationships, leaders who value the social compact, who appreciate the importance of integrity, intelligence, justice, and sound governance. When a political party fails to value those qualities, the people of that nation should not continue to give that party political power. Imagine how different the world might have been if, after Kristallnacht, the nationwide destruction of Jewish businesses and the arrest of 30,000 Jews in November of 1938, the people of Germany had said to the National Socialist Party, “You are unfit to lead,” then had abandoned that party altogether.
Remember this, friends, any nation that treats its historic friends with contempt, will one day treat you with contempt. Any nation that does not honor its commitments to other nations, will soon not honor its commitments to its own citizens, because it has established a pattern of duplicity, a habit of disloyalty, which will be difficult, if not impossible, to break. Healthy, responsible nations give careful thought to their alliances, to their commitments, to their promises, and once made, honor them.
The night before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech in Memphis, Tennessee in which he said, “All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’ If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
That haunting first line. “All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.” Healthy, responsible nations give careful thought to their alliances, to their commitments, to their promises, and once made, honor them. They are true to what they said on paper.
Friends, the moral duty of the church in these times, indeed in any time, is to remind one another that we have a responsibility to be true to what we’ve said on paper. We have promises to keep. As a young man, I did not fully appreciate the importance of promises and pledges carefully made, and conscientiously honored. Now I understood that no relationship, no community, no nation, can long endure when they are founded on shoddy, half-hearted commitments. So I appeal to you today to honor our highest ideals, our noblest aspirations, our sacred vows, to give your word to those people and causes that deserve your word, and then to keep it.