Here we are less than a week away from our national celebration of Independence Day, July 4, the commemoration of the Declaration of Independence of the United States. A day typically filled with fireworks, cookouts, and American flags has now become a day filled with division, confusion, and polarization.
If you celebrate on July 4, are you bowing to the oppression of the slave owners who founded our nation? If you sing the national anthem, are you supporting a nation built on the backs of slaves?
Or, if you fail to hang an American flag on the stoop of your front porch, are you anti-American? If you choose not to grill your burgers and light your sparklers, do your neighbors eye you with suspicion of neo-Marxism?
Even as I write these questions, I imagine the responses from both ends of the political aisle from people, by the way, who strongly profess (and demonstrate) faith in Jesus Christ. If I attempt to find common ground, am I selling out on convictions held? If I prayerfully move toward dialogue, which includes listening to people who may not look like me, vote like me or even believe like me, am I abandoning the principles of faith?
I don’t think so.
What I believe is that we need to turn off and tune out our social media feeds long enough to sit down with people, in person, and listen to their stories . . . and tell our own.
Eleventh century monk, Anselm of Canterbury, used the phrase “faith seeking understanding” to describe the role of theology in the pursuit of truth. He echoed a phrase employed six-hundred years earlier by Augustine of Hippo who wrote, “Believe that you may understand.”
Not only do these phrases apply to the depth and breadth of theology but also to the depth and breadth of seeking understanding on issues that often divide us.
Where do we begin? According to these ancient teachers, we begin with faith. We believe that we may understand. We believe that God is a just God who created all of humanity as equal recipients of His image. We believe that God defines what is right, based on the plumbline of His character. Isaiah wrote the words, “I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isaiah 45:19b).
We uphold freedom and justice as flowing from the river of God’s righteousness, not human ideologies and political strategies. When we do so, we can, as Frederick Douglass, the great American reformer of the 19thcentury taught us, uphold the great “saving principles” and the “ringbolt of your nation’s destiny” found within the Declaration of Independence, while acknowledging there is still much work for freedom yet to be done (“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”).
We all want to be free, not free to do what we want but free to do what is right (Peter Marshall).
So, grill your burgers and light your sparklers. But let’s remember that true freedom comes through Jesus, not America, not a political party, and not an ideology. And this great work of freedom didn’t end on July 4, 1776.