Faith and the Fourth
The Fourth of July may be the best time to reflect on God’s provision to us as a nation. To begin, consider these words from the Bible molded into the Liberty Bell. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10, KJV).
It is sometimes controversial these days to say our legal system reflects our Judeo-Christian roots, yet facts are facts. Draw your own conclusions.
54 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians, and 27 held theology degrees. Additionally, many of our nation’s first leaders went on to form Bible societies.
The signers intended the document to officiate the separation between America and Great Britain. However, they based the Declaration, which has served as a foundation to the beginnings of the American nation, upon a greater foundational belief in God. In addition to the name “Creator” written in the Declaration, Samuel Adams, who signed the historic document and authored the Rights of the Colonists in November 1772, once said, “Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty, in matters spiritual and temporal is a thing that all men [sic] are clearly entitled to by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, as well as by the laws of nations and all well-grounded and municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former.”
Although America was already a free nation during the presidency of George Washington, our first president suggested that only religion could uphold our nation’s morality. In his farewell presidential address, he said, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Speaking of presidents, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, also believed the “God who gave us life [also] gave us liberty.”
More than talking went on in those formulative days. Two of the Continental Congress’ first actions were to hire military chaplains and to purchase 20,000 Bibles to remedy a national shortage.
Even more action happened long before the mid-1770s. The sacred union between the Native Americans and Christianity are inseparable. The Pilgrims clearly stated the purpose for their voyage even before stepping off the Mayflower. Their journal entry document reads, “…undertaken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith…”
Too much turkey talk on July fourth is not necessary because Thanksgiving has its own place and space in America, but the following is worth remembering as we celebrate the birth of our nation. The voyage of the storied Mayflower in 1620 speaks clearly to the traveler’s faith in our Creator. The 65-day-long ordeal in which 102 men, women, and children crossed the stormy Atlantic in a space the size of a city bus is something to consider this upcoming weekend. Far from a hot July, a cruel New England winter found these weary travelers ill-prepared. Due more to exposure than starvation, their number dwindled rapidly in that harsh season.
By the onset of that first spring, half of them had died. Fourteen of the eighteen wives perished. Widowers and orphans abounded. That these indelible, faithful Pilgrims could celebrate at all is a testimony and witness to human resilience and their trust in God.
The U.S. Supreme Court may have likely taken the plight and the promise of God in the Pilgrims’ lives into consideration. In 1892, after 10 years of examining hundreds of documents on the foundation of the country, they declared the United States a Christian nation. The justices came to the unanimous conclusion that the documents they reviewed undeniably “add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a religious people, a Christian nation.”
More of our early American spokespeople add to our nation and its faithful foundation. For example, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, summed up the historic event that led to America’s independence best when he said, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
The conviction that God cannot and should not be moved from the social and governmental construct of America continues to echo in the voice of the USA’s more recent leaders. Here I think of Ronald W. Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. He once shared that, “Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience….without God there is a coarsening of the society; without God democracy will not and cannot long endure….If we ever forget that we are one Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under.”
Reagan may be a prophetic voice today as many feel our nation is not doing so well these days. This may be putting it mildly. In the impressive office of a state senator several years ago there in the state capitol in Harrisburg, I remember Lisa Baker, this longstanding political powerhouse who showed this pastor and two elementary school students with me transparency, compassion and kindness, confided in me what I do not think she shares often. She said, “In all my years as a public servant among fellow public servants, I have never experienced such animosity amongst us.” She added with lament, “Surely, things are changing.”
As we celebrate the fourth, I suggest more can change. In an age of divisiveness, let us hold diverseness not as an enemy, or something to be conquered with might, anger, or even harsh action. Instead, let us see our differences as God-given opportunities to not just love but also learn.
Now, speaking of learning, most of us remember Patrick Henry for these seven words: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Interestingly, Henry only cared to be remembered for his 1765 Stamp Act Resolves. This document, which is lined with scripture, set the colonies up for Independence. Here Henry quotes the wisdom of Proverbs 14. He says, “Righteousness alone can exalt [America] as a nation. Whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others… [T]he great pillars of all government and of social life: I mean virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”
With virtue, morality, and ecumenically mindful religion in practice, let us be invincible—and united. We can be in a united in America under God because liberty and justice for all is not a whim, it is a goal.