A Reflection on the 4th of July
The fact that I am a citizen of this nation and enjoy its freedoms has given me extraordinary privileges and advantages, and countless people have made great sacrifices for the life I now enjoy. It is meet and right to regard this day with honor.
But not everyone who sacrificed to build and sustain our nation wore a military uniform, or gave themselves voluntarily. The same founders who fought courageously for liberty and worked tirelessly to construct our democracy also bought, sold, and tortured enslaved human beings they regarded as less than themselves, and many of the buildings, monuments, and institutions we now treasure were built by forced human labor. While we shed the yoke of one empire, the yoke of slavery helped build an economic empire the likes of which the world has never known.
The wealth generated by the slave economy, in turn, helped us decimate indigenous cultures as our new nation expanded across the continent, building railroads, farms, city halls, and church buildings in the wake of the devastation. The racism built into our cultural and political DNA continues to manifest in so many cries like George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe.” And in the days of COVID, our ability to navigate safely and with minimal loss of our comfort continues to depend on labor from those fleeing violence and desperate poverty south of our border. On a day when we rightly celebrate American freedom, we do well to remember that freedom has never included everyone.
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul tells us that “For freedom Christ has set us free.” In other words, Christian freedom is something else entirely. Rather than the freedom from restrictions, freedom from limitations on our desires and prerogatives, freedom to do whatever we fancy, Christian freedom is the freedom to live a life that is truly for something. Christian freedom is the freedom to live for God and for others. Christian freedom is the liberty that comes from the fact that we don’t write our own story, or determine our own destiny. We are free because in baptism, we are swept up into God’s story of loving, healing, and saving the world. Our destiny is not something we choose. It is the pure gift of a part to play in ushering in God’s kingdom, the beloved community, an empire of love and justice, where all people are embraced, and those who were cast down are lifted up.
For disciples of Jesus, true freedom is found in laying ourselves down, and giving ourselves away. The way of the cross is the only way to true freedom and true life.
As we look back on our celebration of the 4th of July last weekend, I hope all of you who, like me, have led lives of historically unimaginable privilege that has been constructed on the backs of black, brown, and indigenous bodies, will re-commit to work of unraveling the racist pillars of our nation and our churches, by walking, truly walking, the way of Jesus—the way of laying it all down so that others may be built up.
During a time when the flag of our nation waves proudly around us, I hope you will join me in re-pledging our allegiance to Jesus, and him crucified.
For freedom Christ has set us free.
As further reading, I would commend to you Speaking of Freedom: A Letter to The Episcopal Church from Kelly Brown Douglas, Stephanie Spellers and Winnie Varghese. They read the letter and engage in a discussion about the topics within it here.
The Right Reverend Craig Loya
Episcopal Church in Minnesota