The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States has been memorized and recited by school children, practically since the founding of this country. It is a brief introductory statement of the fundamental purposes and guiding principles which the Constitution is meant to serve. It contains a mere 52 words:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Over more than 200 years, the principles embodied in these words have been the source for endless discussions and court decisions about the individual rights of the citizens of this country. What is justice for everyone? Does individual liberty have limits? Should the welfare of the whole supersede the welfare of the person?
The first purpose of the Constitution, as stated in the Preamble, is: “in order to form a more perfect union”. Often it is pointed out that, in the whole history of this country, there has never been a “perfect union”. For practically the first century, almost a whole race of people were systematically enslaved and generally abused by their “owners”; for many years thereafter, their rights were often denied by tradition, precedent, and clever manipulation of the laws by a white majority. During most of that time, tribes of native Americans were denied their civil rights as well as their property rights. As late as the Second World War, citizens of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and sent to prison camps.
It is true that the United States has never been a perfect union. But as time passed, many grievances were addressed and remedied. However, it’s fair to say that a perfect union has never been achieved — and never will be — in this world.
Did the founding fathers expect to establish a “perfect union”? Not necessarily. More than Americans even today, those men understood that nothing in human life and endeavor is perfect, or can be expected to be.
They did not pretend to establish a “perfect union”. They presumed to establish a “more perfect union” — one that was an improvement upon what had gone before. And one that aspired to a greater degree of perfection — of justice, tranquility, and liberty — as time passed. The Constitution did not give a perfect solution to every injustice, or a perfect guarantee of every right. Instead, it gave a framework in which a “more perfect union” could develop.
Brothers and sisters, we should be instructed by this example. We do not have a perfect fellowship, or a perfect community, or any perfect ecclesias. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for such things. But it does mean that, along the way, we can accept the challenge of becoming — and being — a “more perfect ecclesia”, a “more perfect family”. Each of us can become, every day, a “more perfect believer”. It won’t be especially easy; nothing worth having or doing comes easily. The struggle is not just between the bad and the good. It is also between the good-enough and the could-be-better.
What can we do to “form a more perfect union”? What would Jesus do?