Let Freedom Ring
With the July 4th holiday upon us, I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom. I have to admit, over the last few years, it has been getting harder and harder to get into celebrating freedom in our country when I’m seeing so many people I love still struggling for equal rights here in America.
Last Sunday, I wrote about women’s freedom to choose what happens to their bodies. I won’t get back into that topic today, but I do want to thank everyone who offered their encouragement and support to me after they read my essay. Even most of you who disagreed with me did so with kindness, and I genuinely thank you for that.
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So what does having freedom in America really mean? Lately it seems to mean that people want the freedom to do as they please, and to have the rights that are important to them, but they don’t care if others have the same freedoms and rights if those beliefs run counter to their beliefs.
Clearly what some Americans feel is freedom to them, doesn’t feel that way to others. The laws that give some of us rights seem to take away the rights of others.
Here are just a few that come to mind:
Some want the right to smoke… but some want the right to not have to breathe in other’s smoke in public places.
Some want the right to own a gun… but some want the right to have a country with safer gun laws.
Some want the right to buy a cake at the bakery of their choosing… but some want the right to only sell their cakes to people whose lifestyles they approve of.
Some want the right to autonomy over their own bodies… but some want the right to dictate who gets that right.
Some want the right to pray in schools… but some don’t want the prayers of a religion that they don’t believe in to be forced onto their kids.
Some want the right to marry whomever they love… but some want the right to a society where their religious views dictate who can marry and who can not.
Some want America to be based on Christian ideals…but some want separation of church and state.
…..and some want the right to set off loud fireworks in their yards every night all weekend to “celebrate”, and I would like the right to peace and quiet in my own home. Yes, this last one is personal. It sounds like WWII going off in my backyard the last two nights, and I’m sure we will have to endure it again tonight AND tomorrow night. I’ve got a thunder shirt on Charlie — I sure wish they made thunder shirts in my size!
I digressed a bit there, but I think you get my point. It’s kind of unavoidable that my version of freedom will bump into your version of freedom at some point.
How do we fix this problem of freedom? Whose is more important?
I think back to the words of St. Paul in I Corinthians 9:19-23:
“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” (The Msg version)
What I hear Paul saying is that he was willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and understand what was important to them. He wanted to meet someone right where they were in order to serve them better… in order to share the good news of Christ. I see so many well-meaning Christians trying to “share the gospel” with people before developing a relationship with them. It doesn’t work that way. Honestly, it usually backfires. No one wants someone they barely know to shove their religion down their throats. NO ONE WANTS THAT.
But back to freedom in America. I’ve always heard Christians claim that America was founded as a Christian nation and on Christian values and “we need to get back to that”. I did a little digging into our history and here is what I found:
When our original 13 colonies were formed, they belonged to the British Empire, whose king presided over an imperial church, so yes, British citizens residing in those colonies lived under Christian rule. However, when America gained her independence, the British monarchy lost control over its American subjects. Champions of American liberty then celebrated their religious as well as political independence.
Our Founding Fathers were a diverse group of individuals who held diverse views on most subjects - including religion. There were some Christians among them, yes — many of them claimed to be theistic rationalists, including George Washington, John Adams, James Wilson, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Some reports say Benjamin Franklin was actually a self-professed Deist, along with Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen, but in any rate, it’s clear that they didn’t practice the Americanized version of Christianity that many practice today. Because of their own diversity, it was important to them that they allowed for all different religions to be practiced as they set up our new America.
As a matter of fact, in the treaty of peace and friendship between the United States and Tripoli that was approved by George Washington, it explicitly stated: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…” **
Why does this matter today? This matters because:
“1) as purveyors of truth, Christians damage their witness by promoting historical inaccuracies.
2) Designating a mixture of naturalistic influences as “Christian” or “biblical” tarnishes and taints the Word of God and attaches the authority and reputation of the inerrant Word to man-made principles.
3) Identifying moral or “religious” people as Christians makes the gospel one of moral behavior and character rather than the saving work of Christ and personal commitment to Him.
4) Promotion of the “Christian America” idea causes believers to confuse their cultural/American heritage with biblical Christianity. Many conflate what is truly biblical with American tradition.
5) Belief that the system was originally Christian and biblical places undue confidence in processes and institutions rather than in the sovereign God. It directs efforts toward correcting the political system rather than redeeming lost people.
6) It sometimes leads to national idolatry and national self-righteousness and treats naturalistic political ideals on a par with Scripture.
7) The Bible becomes a tool of a political agenda. Proper use and interpretation of the Bible is viewed as less important than how many times it is quoted.”*
So how did some come to believe that America was founded as a Christian nation? It can be traced back to the early 19th century as that generation sought to establish a national identity. There are books that dive deeply into this including One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin M. Kruse. I won’t go into it deeper here… google it if you want a history lesson about all that. However, I think it’s important that we learn the beginnings of what we see as “Christian Nationalism” today and understand the harm it is causing— not only to our country, but to the gospel of Christ.
The bottom line is this: As a Christian, I value separation of church and state because I don’t want the government interfering in my religion and I believe ALL religions in America deserve that same right.
I see a national idolatry growing in certain Christian circles and it’s troubling to me. We are not called to put ourselves or our country FIRST. We are called to put Christ first in our lives and to love everyone equally as we love ourselves. Heck, Jesus even said we are supposed to love our enemies. I think that is one thing that was supposed to separate Christians from others — the way that we loved ALL, not just those that held the same beliefs that we do.
But back to freedom. I believe that our founding fathers tried to set up a country where diversity was welcomed, even encouraged. These days, if you aren’t a conservative Republican, then half of the country doesn’t consider you a true “patriot”. It’s disturbing to me. When I hear politicians making statements like “We need to take back our country!” — I’m like, take it back from whom? From other Americans? We are ALL Americans who ALL love our country. We just happen to have different opinions about what will make America “great”. When people say they want to make “America great again”, what does that really mean? When WAS that special, perfect time in history that America was “great” that they are referring to?
In 1970, 10-year-old Joel Lipton wrote a letter to Peanuts cartoonist, Charles Schulz as part of a 5th grade assignment at Hawthorne School in Beverly Hills, asking him, "What makes a good citizen?"
Schulz replied with the following letter which reads:
So even back in in 1970, people were complaining about getting back to “American Virtues” (whatever that means). This yearning for “the way it used to be” isn’t anything new. But the truth is, we can’t go back. We can only go forward. That’s how life and time works. So it’s my prayer this July 4th, as we all stop for a minute to celebrate being Americans, that we will follow St. Paul’s direction on what freedom means. That being free shouldn’t be about using that freedom to make our own life better but to make other’s lives better. I think when we look outward towards our fellow man, we will see that we are much more alike than different - even as the news pundits try to convince us otherwise. Our nation seems to be more “un-united” as ever — but I choose to stay hopeful that loving hearts will prevail and we can all learn to love and appreciate one another better. It’s the only way to actually get “back” to the world our Founding Fathers tried to create here in America—- the land of the “free”. Freedom for all.
Enjoy your holiday, dear Americans. I’ll be busy eating hot dogs, apple pie and dodging fireworks. Ha. :-)
*directly quoted from “The Faith of The Founding Fathers”, written by: Dr. Gregg Frazer, Professor of History & Political Studies at The Master’s University
**from “The Founding Father’s Religious Wisdom” by Nicholas Rathod
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This is brilliant! Thank you, Marcia!
Thank you for such a great insight!!