We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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–Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1776)
We’re getting ready to celebrate our Independence Day in America. There will be parades, cookouts, parties, fireworks, and a host of other celebrations. There will be a lot of flag-waving and patriotic displays. At some gatherings, there may be readings of our Declaration of Independence. This document was drafted to outline, not just a list of reasons why they should rebel, but what they hoped to build as a result of their struggle for freedom.
Over 240 years later, this document, and what it stands for, is still relevant and calls us to a high standard– one our nation has not fully achieved. In spite of the great strides we have made and the example we have been to the rest of the world, in recent decades, we have left behind many of the very truths we aspired to hold.
First, there is a dangerous belief that “truth” is no longer self-evident, nor is it timeless. We don’t hold beliefs and truths anymore. We shift with the tide of public opinion and the shadowy promise of “being on the right side of history”– which just means being on the winning side of the current debate within our lifetime and hopefully into the next set of history books.
Second, we have spent countless hours, shedding blood, sweat, and tears over the phrase “ALL MEN”– struggling to reach the promise of equality for all humankind. We have fallen short of this vision, and twisted it into a grotesque parody of itself. Instead of working together in unity and inclusiveness, we have devolved into factions each fighting to be “more equal” than others. Instead of looking at the equal value and humanity of all our people, we point fingers at all the people who are “less worthy”, “more privileged”, “entitled”, “marginalized”, “intolerant”, “judgmental”, who “need to be silenced”, or “need to be kept in their place”…how can neighbors and fellow citizens be so vicious? One answer may be found in the very next phrase…
ARE CREATED equal, and are endowed BY THEIR CREATOR…Usually, this phrase is emphasized in the exact opposite places– the emphasis is on EQUAL and ENDOWED. We have lost the “truth” of being “UNDER GOD”. We have lost the truth of being created. We have lost the truth that our worth, our rights, our values, are not a product of our own opinions and observations.
It is easy to point to others and say, “They are ruining our country– They are not living out these truths.”
The harder lesson is to look at my own assumptions, actions, and beliefs. Do I TRULY believe that all the people around me– of every creed, gender, race, political party, nationality, educational achievement, or economic level are created equal and endowed BY THEIR CREATOR with value, and inalienable rights? If, at any point, I make assumptions about the worthiness of “those people”, assuming that God loves me more, or will have more mercy or grace toward me because of who I am or how I behave; because of the color of my skin, or where I live, or who I voted for; because of the things I know or the good deeds I have done–I am part of the problem. Christians, if we bear the name of Christ who created all mankind, and we hate those whom Christ created, the love of Christ IS NOT in us.
That doesn’t mean that we ignore sin and compromise our character, and pervert justice in the name of a comfortable facsimile of equality. But it also means that we must stop whitewashing hatred and injustice in the name of morality. Morality without love cannot heal our nation. Nor can rewriting our history. Nor can declaring our Independence.
The Declaration of Independence is not a stand-alone document. It had no authority on its own. If our founders had lost the Revolutionary War; if they had abandoned their vision of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”; if their descendants had failed to bring a divided nation back into unity; if our parents and grandparents had not struggled and fought to make our nation live up to its principles; and if our generations fail to come together and work toward that same vision– Independence will not be something to celebrate, but something to detest.
While it is called the Declaration of Independence, it is a spirit of dependence– on God, on His truth, and on the goodwill of our fellow Americans, that keeps this document alive and full of promise.
We need to pray for our nation– and for our own revival– if we are to truly celebrate this Fourth of July.