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American Independence Day: Grounds of Hope for Others
Across our Nation this Independence Day week, patriotic services will be held in countless churches carrying on a long valued American tradition, celebrating our Nation’s Judeo-Christian Heritage and its importance to our fundamental freedoms.
July the 4th, Independence Day, was kindled by sermons from early America’s pulpits. Churches provided sanctuary to ignite oratory like Patrick Henry’s fire and brimstone “give me liberty or give me death,” which was delivered in Richmond’s St. John’s Church.
From our beginnings, our Founders affirmed their reliance on the Almighty. It was Benjamin Franklin, who asked prophetically at our Constitutional Convention, “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his aid?” Importantly, he said, “…the longer I live, the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth — That God governs in the Affairs of Men.” Truly, providence has helped guide the principles of our Nation through tumultuous, as well as triumphant, times.
However, today, we too often hear from various sectors about a “wall of separation” that stymies religious expression. When President Thomas Jefferson used the term “wall of separation” – about the role of church and state in our country – he did so in a letter and not to an agency of government to tell them to pry the Ten Commandments off the wall. No, Jefferson was writing to Baptists – the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut – who were concerned about government encroachment upon their religious liberties.
Jefferson’s “wall” was not erected to keep people of faith from the public square; it was to keep the hand of government away from the eyes, ears and mouths of people of faith so all could read or hear or speak freely of their faith. It was not a wall to keep the words “under God” off our coin or currency or from our Pledge of Allegiance or render religious exercise from our schools and public venues. As Christians, we have an obligation to preciously guard the guarantees of the free exercise of our faith.
Recall the command of our Lord which said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” Here, He was ordaining an active civic responsibility as part of every Christian’s life. While we are obliged to pay taxes, we are also obligated to make certain they are raised fairly and spent justly. Citizen participation in America’s Democracy is yet another opportunity to do God’s work here on Earth.
But does our duty to protect the freedoms we enjoy as citizens and Christians end at America’s shores and borders in this great bastion of liberty? Now, I am among the first in the Congress to say the United States of America is not the policeman of the World. However, when Christians or freedoms around the world are persecuted and threatened, should we not, can we not, actively engage the strong historic ties we have with democratic allies throughout the world to help. Can we turn our backs on the new emerging democracies of Eastern Europe, or what about the struggling democracies of southern Asia?
And what of those countries of the Arab Spring that could forge their destinies in democracy and help stabilize the region where our strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel, exists? Should we not side with the cause of freedom there?
These are not new questions.
To celebrate fifty years of independence, the City of Washington, D.C., planned a grand anniversary celebration for July 4, 1826. They invited the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. Advanced age and failing health kept Jefferson from making the journey so he penned a letter of regret in which he wrote of the Declaration:
“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.… These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
From scores of developing countries to Tiananmen Square in China, America’s Declaration has been read; sometimes it has been borrowed, while other times it has been bruised.
Through it all, though, the American Declaration remains a beacon of hope for Christians and all people of faith that their families can worship as they choose.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s 3rd District
For more information contact: Diane Luensmann (202) 225-3452