Happy Monday, friends! Tomorrow, we celebrate the Fourth of July, our Independence Day. History tells us, somewhat incorrectly, that on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress met and ratified what we now know as the Declaration of Independence. This statement of grievances against King George III and the English Parliament remains one of the finest examples of political writing in English. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Thomas Jefferson’s moving second paragraph begins, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Unfortunately, it was also a masterful (pun intended) lie.
None of these truths were then self-evident and American jurisprudence continues to reinforce that they are more hidden than evident. In 1776 slavery was legal in all thirteen colonies. Freedom for all slaves in any one colony (Massachusetts) would not come for another seven years. Jefferson, daring to pen “that all men are created equal,” was a slaveholder with a large plantation who used forced labor to build houses and institutions including the University of Virginia. These truths were not even evident among white people. Women were disenfranchised until the 20th century, and it wasn’t until the 1820s that property requirements were removed for white men.
The United States is at once the world’s great experiment in democracy and a cautionary tale in the tyranny democracies can cause. Yes, the United States is the great salad bowl, perhaps even at times a melting pot, but children remain caged at our southern border for the crime of seeking the supposedly better life of the American Dream. Yes, the United States has promoted democracy around the world, but the United States has also destabilized and toppled democratically elected governments which did not align with our economic or political interests. Yes, the United States is the land of heroes who bravely accepted the call to serve and, in some cases, die for our freedom, yet veterans are 50% more likely to be homeless and at least 10% of all veterans are homeless. Yes, the United States is home to some of the leading global medical and health care research and clinical facilities, yet costs for even routine care lead many people to choose between their health and their homes or meals; to say nothing of laws which allow medical practitioners to deny care to people based on religion and morals. And while I’d like to close this paragraph writing about the general freedoms and opportunities that people in the United States enjoy, the school-to-prison pipeline, rampant police brutality, the most people incarcerated than any other nation, lack of bodily autonomy for women and trans men, lack of protections for mothers and children once born, and laws which seek to legislate the LGBTQIA+ community out of existence, among many other examples, convinces me that those freedoms and opportunities might be a house of cards.
Tomorrow, many people will sing patriotic songs and post on social media about how the United States is the “greatest nation on earth.” Across the country, people will gather for parades, flag raisings, memorials, cookouts, and the all-important fireworks—because what is more “American” than eating, getting drunk, and handling explosives? In many churches the US flag will continue to hang in sanctuaries and other prominent places. Christian ministers will preach at public ceremonies and the sin of picking sides for God will continue for another year.
How will you celebrate the Fourth of July? Where does the mythology of the United States show up for you?
Let us pray: God, you don’t take sides even as we claim that you are clearly “on our side.” Move us so to remove the church from the state and the state from the church. Yet, compel our message and our action to be political until collective liberation is achieved for every person. We ask this through Jesus, who preached radical inclusion. Amen.
Blessings on your weeks, my friends! Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.