Everyone here was worried about possible outbreaks of violence as political tensions heightened with the approach of the December 2 national referendum. However, prayers for peace and national unity were answered as the referendum was followed by dancing rather than fighting in the streets.
There was even a parade of cars and trucks down the quiet lane next to our preschool. The passengers were waving banners that proclaimed "No" (to the constitutional reform), "Venezuela libre" ("Free Venezuela") and "Somos libre" ("We are free").
Venezuelans voted down sweeping changes in the national constitution proposed by the government of President Hugo Chavez. Venezuela has been sharply divided over the past seven years between supporters and opponents of the Chavez government. This was the president's first-ever political defeat since taking office in 2000. You could sense a difference about this national election as staunch Chavez supporters, even some government officials, began talking openly about voting "no" this time.
Hugo Chavez was first elected president of Venezuela by a landslide vote. He ran on a relatively moderate platform of social and economic reforms which nearly everyone agrees Venezuela needs. But his rhetoric and policies have become more and more radical, and the proposed constitutional reform was too radically left-wing even for some long-time allies. It was felt that the proposed constitutional reform gave too much power to the federal government and also would further divide Venezuelans into opposing camps. These feelings crossed party lines, so that is why in the aftermath of the referendum, there was much talk of "reconciliation" and peace.
Venezuela has a long history of democratic ideals, although realizing those ideals often has proven difficult. Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the most-admired North American in Venezuela. There are high schools and streets named after him, and in Caracas there is a small plaza with a bust of Lincoln in the center. The pedestal is inscribed with these words from the Gettysburg Address: "...that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Following the referendum this past week, Luz María and I went to see "Miranda Regresa", a Venezuelan-produced movie depicting the life of Francisco de Miranda, one of the heroes of Venezuela's War of Independence. Miranda was born in Caracas in 1750. He commanded Spanish troops supporting the cause of U.S. independence in Florida and Missisippi during the (North) American Revolution. He became personally acquainted with George Washington, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
Later, after being accused of treason against Spain, Miranda fought in the French Revolutionary Army on behalf of the Girondist party. When the Girondists fell from favor during Robespierre's "Reign of Terror", he was forced to leave France.
Backed by Great Britain, Miranda led an unsuccessful attempt to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule in 1806. During this attempt, the yellow-blue-and-red Venezuelan flag was flown for the first time at the port city of La Vela de Coro.
Simón Bolívar led a more successful uprising against Spain, but when Venezuela officially declared its independence on July 5, 1811, Miranda became the first leader of the new republic. In 1812 he was forced to sign an armistice restoring Spanish rule. Because of this, when Bolívar returned to Caracas after a period of exile, he handed Miranda over to the Spanish army. Miranda died in a Spanish prison in 1816.
The movie emphasized the influence of 18th-Century philosophers, such as Voltaire and Rousseau, on Miranda, the gentleman-adventurer and man of action. Of course, 18th-Century Europe exalted human reason and denied Biblical truths like original sin. This resulted in an overly optimistic view of human nature and the failure of dreams of liberty, as illustrated by the history of so many revolutions of the 19th and 20 centuries where the new, utopian-minded government turned out to be more of an oppressor than the old regime.
It is worth noting that the Masonic Lodge, of which Miranda and Bolívar were both members, played an important role in popularizing the ideology of the European "Enlightenment" in Latin America. Certainly this was true in North America as well; the 2004 movie, "National Treasure," starring Nicholas Cage, is largely fanciful, yet in some respects quite accurate about the involvement of the Masons in early U.S. history. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, many of the signers of the Declarations of Independence and the Constitution, members of the Continental Army and the first Congress of the United States of America were all Masons.
The Masonic Lodge always has been an odd mix of 18th-Century rationalism and occultism, with the rationalism emphasized above all else in the Americas. Because the Masons were early champions of the idea of separation of church and state, they were from the beginning bitter enemies of the Roman Catholic Church, with nine papal bulls over a 200-year period threatening with excommunication Catholics who joined the Lodge.
Lutherans today may agree with some ideas espoused by the Masonic Lodge, such as the separation of civil and ecclesiastical authority, although for somewhat different reasons. But Lutherans have been on the same page with the Roman Catholic Church in opposing the Masonic Lodge for its underlying religious philosophy: That no religious tradition has a special revelation from God, but there are "higher truths" in all religions that can be discerned by sufficiently advanced individuals. This philosophy implies that eternal life may be earned through good works and not through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior from sin.
Given that Roman Catholicism has been the predominant religion in Latin America for hundreds of years, it is rather surprising to find that the Masonic Lodge played such an important role in Venezuelan history and continues to be active in Venezuela today.
But much of this historical information may be found in more depth at the Cross and Compass Web site maintained by historical researcher Sara Frahm. One rather poignant article there examines the spiritual journey of George Washington. He was raised in a devout Anglican family, and as a young man, was active in the Anglican Church. At age 20, Washington wrote a personal prayer book filled with affirmations of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. However, also as a young man, Washington was initiated into the Masonic Lodge.
After the Revolutionary War, Washington's involvement with the Lodge dramatically increased while his participation in the life of the church decreased. He stopped taking Holy Communion and attended Sunday services less and less frequently, until he stopped attending altogether. His public references to Christ almost completely ceased, as he began speaking of God more in terms of "the divine Providence", "the Author of the universe" and other terms popular among 18-Century rationalists.
It is good that Christians, no matter what our nationality, look at our national heroes and our nation's ideals under the lens of the Holy Scriptures. It was good for Luz María and myself, as Venezuelans voted "Yes" or "No" in their referendum, to meditate on this passage in our personal devotions:
"As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory." 2 Corinthians 1:18-20