This week we celebrate the Fourth of July. This national holiday commemorating the passage and signing of the Declaration of Independence has been marked with fireworks, hot dogs and family events for the last 245 years. I remember standing in Independence Hall, thinking of all the incredible sacrifices the men who signed that document had to make. Coincidentally, two of those men were pastors. I like to think I would have been number three had I been around in 1776! Their bravery, courage and outright grit in the face of tyranny is overwhelming. Their generation didn’t just found a new country. They established a foundation for freedom that has been fought for and won in every single generation since.
Many times over the last nearly 250 years, our nation has had to rise to the cry for liberty. I believe we are at another one of those points today. We are not the free nation we were even 10 years ago. We are held in bondage to hatred and bitterness. Much like the attitudes that killed millions in our nation in the 1860’s, we’ve adopted a finger pointing solution today instead of choosing to inspect our own hearts. We blame everyone and everything for the wrong that is going on around us. Instead of turning the other cheek, we choose to react to a slap with a punch…and enjoy the brawl that ensues. No, our nation is far from free today. Our flag may represent it, our money and constitution may say it and our soldiers protect it, but we are in bondage to each other.
We’ve adopted an idea that says, “My rights are more important than any other agenda on the table AND no one else gets to define my rights but me.” This position is opposite the attitudes and agendas of our founding fathers. While champions of human rights and signers of the Bill that states their new found freedom, their definition of “rights” never ever meant that you and I, out of hatred and bitterness, have the privilege of steam rolling those who disagree with us. Their understanding of our rights put them in a position of hammering out unity amidst diversity, truth in the presence of confusion and trust in an environment of chaos. They accomplished the near impossible because they said freedom was more important than their opinions, goals or personal vendettas. The ball they started rolling brought about, none too soon, the rights of women, children and people of color. It eliminated slavery and began to create a level playing field for every nationality on earth to enjoy on our soil. The actions have not been all perfect and most would agree they came too slowly, but the forward motion cannot be denied.
We survived a Revolution, a Civil War, multiple other wars (including world-wide ones), as well as thousands of international battles where we were fighting for the liberty of other nations. However, the battle we are facing today is not one that can be won with political prowess or military strategy. Sit-ins and marches will not bring us victory today. Petitions and amendments will do nothing but create more confusion. The battlefield we must stand and fight on today is in our own hearts, minds and back yards. This generation must decide, much like the generation that stood against Great Britain with nothing more than a great idea, if liberty, unity and truth are still something worth surrendering our opinions and pride for.
This is not a cost-free battle. Many of our institutions will argue for their way or the highway. Many believe they are fighting a battle for freedom by bloodying their neighbor, when in reality all they are doing is creating a deeper divide. We need common ground as much as we need oxygen to make this stand. Where can we find that kind of ground?
There is one institution that provides that kind of territory: the Church. We should have no vendetta and if we do we should jettison it like a hot potato. We have no rights to elevate over anyone else. Jesus tells us things like “the first will be last” and “whoever follows me will deny himself and take up his cross daily.” These make it hard for Christ followers to trample anyone. What’s more, our guiding document makes room for every single person in the room. It is absolutely nonbiased, without a hint of prejudice and full of grace (room for mistakes). We love the Bible because of its perfection and because it represents the heart of the only perfect One who ever walked our soil: Jesus. I’m not suggesting we lay the Bible on the table as our nation’s newest Declaration of Independence. I’m suggesting the Church, the ones who say they adhere to this standard, step up to the plate and model its contents.
Our celebration of freedom should not just include a “Hallelujah” for things in the past. We should be willing and active in our celebration to move closer to liberty today. The only feasible, tangible way I know for that to happen is for us to elevate Jesus above all else. He is more important than any national conflict. His words bring truth and healing. I don’t expect all of our population to see that or agree to it. I do fully expect the Church as a whole to not only agree but to act on it.