On Sunday, July 4th, our nation will celebrate Independence Day. In recognition, our church office will be closed on July 5th.
How a church recognizes, honors, or celebrates a national holiday is not a simple matter. This is certainly true for July 4th. Our nation’s Declaration of Independence was a document that proclaimed that “all men are created equal.” And yet that very document and declaration ignored the deep injustices that were already embedded in the community declaring “independence.”
One good exploration of those contradictions is Frederick Douglas’ 1853 speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” If you have not read the entire speech, we encourage you to do so. Last summer, Douglas’ descendants recorded it here.
Here is an excerpt:
I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation . . .
These words continue to resonate in what Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman last January called our “unfinished” nation. (And this weekend might be a good time to reread or rewatch her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” again.)
As followers of Jesus we recognize our allegiance is to a kin-dom for which we pray, beyond any national allegiance. Our Christian story was born in resistance to any co-opting of faith by empire. In fact, throughout history the merging of nationalism and religion has proven oppressive and deadly. To imagine that true religion stands on the side of any state is a dangerous misunderstanding of spirituality.
So this weekend, as we observe the 4th of July, may we as citizens and residents respond to Gorman’s call:
“We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover in every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it,
if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
And may we as people of faith, citizens and residents of God’s kin-dim, continue the universal spiritual work of justice and peace.
Pastor Amy is currently on vacation and will return July 6