An "unpopular" 4th of July Post… Why this is Not a Day to Celebrate…

UPDATE: After you read this post and comment, Mason pointed out a very good article from Christianity Today written by Historical Christian Scholar Mark Noll (he is read in seminaries across America)… It asks similar questions from a historical perspective.
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ORIGINAL POST:

I want to start out this post with a huge disclaimer… what I am about to say may sound radical or irrational to some. I also want to say that I have a great respect for those who differ with me on this issue that I am about to discuss, so I invite your ideas on this post as well. Finally, I have a great deal of respect for those who are Christians and who ‘support’ military and our troops. Those who serve our country (although I may disagree with it to some extent from my standpoint theologically) deserve respect for their sacrifices and I am glad to have some friends who have served or are serving in the armed forces.

With all of that said, I have been struggling with the idea of the 4th of July for the past year or so. Each year we get together and remember the day when America won her freedom. We reenact the story through live action plays, we set off fireworks as a display of joy, and we sing prideful songs about our freedom from oppression. In many ways, we treat Independence Day like the Jews in Jesus’ day (and even to this day) remember the exodus from Egypt. Now here is the issue I have: No matter what position you hold in regards to being a Christian and war (I happen to lean towards a nonviolent stance), I cannot justify glorifying the ‘wining’ of our independence from our friends across the pond, even from a ‘just war theory’ viewpoint. How can we celebrate that we killed thousands upon thousands of people (MANY OF WHICH WORSHIPED THE SAME GOD!) over the fact that they were taxing our mammon with out giving us representation in parliament or whatever?!!!!! This seems just plain wrong!!!!! Yes, there might be some kind of justice issue here, but the greater injustice to taxation without representation is the violent killing of our brethren.
Is there anyone out there who agrees with me or am I just crazy [if you disagree take it easy on the crazy comments (-; ]? If you agree, why? If not, tell me your thoughts on this historic day and Christian biblical theology.

  • http://jasonsthoughtsonstuff.blogspot.com/ Jason

    Interesting post and comments. It seems to me that this conversation circles around the celebration of freedom and the idea that the American revolution provided that freedom and all subsequent wars have helped maintain that freedom.

    The presuposition above is that violence is what helps us maintain the life we live. I have two responses to that:

    1. Violence is not the only way to respond. Look at Ghandi and other non-violent leaders. And, it is important to note that diplomacy and non-violence are different things. Yes, as noted above, some tried to “negotiate” with people like Hitler and failed. But, in that instance, some people (not enough) resisted Hitler and the Nazis in a non-violent way and succeeded (look at the story of the town of Le Chambon and Andre Trocme).

    2. Just because we have a great life does not mean that we deserve or are entitled to it. We have blessings. That does not mean that we deserve them or have a right to them. When I say that, I do not mean blessings like rule of law, stable society, or various freedoms. Those are things that I would be inclined to say people “deserve”. The “blessings” I have a problem with are making sure that we can purchase certain things at good prices (oil, bananas, diamonds, etc…). Or, I have a problem if we have these blessings at the expense of someone else.

    In the end, I am happy to be an American, but we have to be willing to critique our own history. Because, we are first and foremost Christians and not Americans.

    What Kurt is saying is that the American Revolution was an unjust war if you are basing it on the just war theory. T

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt

      Jason, you nailed what I think on this one. Great insights, although it appears that some of your comment may be missing!?

  • http://ecumenicalpilgrim.blogspot.com/ Scott

    Regardless of the violence, how do Christians justify this action in light of Romans 13?

    Romans 13
    1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

    It appears that rebellion against one’s government because of taxation issues is not an appropriate response for Paul. Why do Christians celebrate this day?

  • http://timgoodbody.blogspot.com/ Tim Goodbody

    Hi Kurt,
    it’s not a biblical reason, but (even though I am English) I disagree with you, and here’s why.
    In England we do not have a national day; we have stuff like the Queen’s official birthday (focussing on one person who represents the nation) and St George’s day (focussing on one person who may or may not have existed, or been called George, but who certainly wasn’t English.)
    It is frequently said over here that our nation lacks a sense of national identity and national pride. On the 4th of July, even if the underlying history is a little suspect, at least the USA celebrates nationhood, national pride etc. unashamedly.
    In England, even St George is regarded as a little right wing for some (being a crusader …) and so we find it hard to focus properly on English national pride without reverting backt to the pre-postmodern era of “The English the English The English are best and I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest!”
    cheers
    Tim

  • http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com/ Mason

    Kurt, given my feelings on war in general I think you know where I stand here.

    That said, if you want a great discussion on if the Revolution was a just war, by someone infinitely more qualified to speak on this than myself, check out this article by Mark Noll.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1999/february8/9t2070.html

  • RTW

    While I do understand where you are coming from and admire your heart on this, I would ask that you consider a different view. It would be nice if we could always sit down with those who wish to oppress us and convince them the error of their ways. However, this presupposes that those who wish to oppress us are rational and can be negotiated with. Unfortunately, this is not the case. {For example, before WWII many Countries negotiated with Hitler and we know how that worked out.} But sticking to our Revolutionary War, the basic question you ask is should we celebrate it. For me the answer is YES. I celebrate not only the freedom I have been given, but also the memory of those thousands who have died in making my freedom possible. You stated that “I cannot justify glorifying the ‘wining’ of our independence from our friends across the pond”. That is your choice, a choice that was ironically given to you by the very thing you detest. So maybe you should consider being willing to celebrate the freedom you have and how this freedom allows you to spread the word of the Lord.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Hi RTW… You know how much I respect you so enough said on that.

      I fully respect where you come from on this one. But, the only thing that I would challenge is the idea that my freedom to choose came from our independence. I am free to chose because God has given me a free will. Just like the Christians who suffered persecution during the first century and so on, I have the ability to choose because of the grace of God. Even if we had not separated ourselves from England, most likely it would have turned out pretty good. Canada never revolted, and they are doing just fine (socialism aside, they have basic freedom).

      Again, I simply think it is important to recognize that the End doesn’t justify the Means… and the means were not ‘just’ on this one. Killing over taxes doesn’t sound like the way of Jesus… if this were so, he would have taught his disciples to fight the Romans rather than to endure and suffer. Roman taxes in Jesus’ day were way more oppressive than with the English and king George.

      Finally, I love fireworks, hanging with friends and BBQ’s. I just think that as Americans, we need to be willing to critique our past.

      • RTW

        Well said, it is important to stand your ground (even when you are wrong :).

        L&S

        RTW

        • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

          Well played! Right back at ya….

  • http://dhcosbyfamily.blogspot.com/ Daniel-Heather Cosby

    Yeah, simply put we agree with you. We have no desire to celebrate this ‘holiday’ however we use the opportunity usually to gather w/those that do.. since they are anyway.

    Glad to know that there are others who ponder and question why we do what we do, i.e. followers of the way.

  • Charles Mark

    Kurt….I love you buddy like a brother but….you know what i’m going to say. I’m not going to tell you that I agree. The reason why men and women join the military is to defend the very freedoms that allow you to have you own opinion, vote, worship and so on. I know I come from a military stand point so when I think about the 4th of July I myself celebrate and remember what freedoms we’ve gained. In all the countries I’ve been too and especially deploying two out of three times to Afghanistan I know how blessed by God we are to have what we have. We live in a country where women can walk outside without the threat of men hurting her because she hasnt covered enough of herself up. We live in a country where electricity and clean water are taken for granted without a second thought. We have the most advantages of all the places I’ve visited because of the of price paid, it was paid for by sweat and blood by normal guys like us. So those are the things I celebrate on the 4th.

    • http://dhcosbyfamily.blogspot.com/ Daniel-Heather Cosby

      Charles, we don’t personally know you, but as a follower of Jesus we take the approach that the type of freedom you’re speaking of is not the kind of freedom that Jesus spoke of…in fact they are at odds with one another. Jesus spoke of His kingdom, which dwells in the hearts of men, He spoke of being set free from spiritual death…

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

    A couple of clarifications are needed:

    1. I am not sooo anti 4th that I am revolting or not wanting to hang out. I actually thought about saying more about the positives, but rather more of the negatives came out. Let me say that i love fireworks, bbq’s, and a chance to hang out. I also love that I have had the privilege to grow up in this country. I love living in the USA and my pride goes as far as the way that I have had an easy experience in life compared to others across the world because of it. So, I am not “anti-America” by any stretch, and I am happy that i live here. What I think is that we need to recalculate our past and allow the gospel to be critical of certain things we now celebrate. Is it honorable to kill because we didn’t like being taxed… I think the Jesus who says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” would probably say “no.”

    2. on a more personal note, I love my friend charles and he one of the people i had in mind when I wrote “I have a great deal of respect for those who are Christians and who ‘support’ military and our troops. Those who serve our country (although I may disagree with it to some extent from my standpoint theologically) deserve respect for their sacrifices and I am glad to have some friends who have served or are serving in the armed forces.” I love my friend Charles and respect him more than most. He loves Jesus with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength; so this is not an area that I would ever question of any Christians who hold to “just war theory.” I beleive that what he used his military service for was not a ‘lost cause’ and that God was at work in his life through this experience.

    3. I am grateful for our freedom, but as Daniel and Heather have said, I am more grateful for the freedom I have in Jesus. Whether I am allowed by the government to worship or may be put in jail; my prayer is that I would worship him anyway. Historically, the church has thrived under persecution.

    4. Again, let me say that I am glad to be an American as long as this doesn’t negate that Canadian Christians matter just as much, or Palestinian Christians for that matter. My heart is just to call out our past evils… although the current benefits of the revolution have been good for us in many ways. I am not convinced that the End Justifies the Means on this one!

    Thanks for your input! Chuck, I cant wait to see you when you get back!!!

    • Charles Mark

      good input buddy. you know i dont mean anything negative to your character or what you believe. i just want people to think about all aspects of the issue. i myself am so pro peace and anti war now because of what i have seen and done in my past. i think because of my experiences it has led me to this mindset that jesus’ teachings of letting them strike the other cheek and forgive and so on are the only true way to deal with these types of worldly problems. just unfortunatley the past is the past and all we can do is learn from it and base future decisions on those things. i know that before i deployed all i understood of war was what i saw in movies and tv and thought that i had a good grip of what is was. then that all changed. it takes sacrifice of every part of your life. from the revolutionary war to both world wars to the conflicts going on today. it takes sacrifice of time, being away from family and they too have to give up there mothers, fathers, and so on.

      you have to give up common things like good health and food. i lost 25 pounds the first deployment and 30 the next because all i ate was MRE’s everyday and had vomiting and diarhea every other week and climbed mountains every day. there is a alot to other than just laying your life on the line for your country. i think its more hard to have a life long commitment of servitude than it is to “take a bullet” for a buddy on the battle field. obviously i’m talking of serving Christ vs. going off to war and dieing for a human cause. but in the end i was just trying to say that there is alot more to than just going off to “war.” but anyways i love you and respect you. as an old time friend and brother in Christ you and i are on the same team. i hope you have a good weekend and i’ll see you when i get back. later buddy.

  • Matt Z

    Comrad Kurt, this is the Russian…It brings great joy to my heart to read your thoughts on the 4th of July. I can assure you your commrads in the Mother Land share your feelings. Capitalism is crumbling as we speak and the Iron Curtain will descend once again! I will be flying the hammer and sickle in my front yard tomorrow.

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

    Charles, I love you too…I appreciate your honesty and your insight… you have insights that I could never imagine. thanks. This will be an interesting dialogue that will be ongoing between us i am sure…

    As for my “Russian” friend… even though you are sarcastic as i will get out, you made me laugh and ultimately that is what friends should do when they disagree! Have a great 4th no matter what your perspective is!

  • Steven M

    Comment Originally at “the Common Root”

    You are not crazy. Last 4th we attended a different kind of celebration, one that was dependent on God and his creation.
    Very different and moving. What most americans fail to understand is that this country was not built on independence, but on commerce. Looking for a way to make money.
    There is a documentary on the 4 DVD set of Pearl Harbor that traces the time line from just before the founding of the nation and how we brought something to the far east that the culture there did not want.
    This is part of the reason that USAers are not thought well of in the world.

    Those that KNOW Jesus understand that ALL cultures are a part of the creation and we need to understand whos image we are made in.

    WE, the USA, have been made in the image of a people that came to get out from under an oppressive King. Now we have a so called government that is “by the people, for the people” and most of them had “money” when they founded the nation. Also, this “Christian nation” is a lie! Go read the entire Declaration of Independence and see that, if the founders were correct, that we can start the country all over again.
    Most of what they found wrong about King George, has happened again because we are still imitating a governmental system that doesn’t quite work.

    What kind will? One that recognizes the God of Abraham, the Father of Jesus.
    This nation was not founded on Christian values, though some do match up. There is a different culture that will define all humans. And it is not found in the man made laws.

  • http://timgoodbody.blogspot.com/ Tim Goodbody

    Hi again Kurt,
    I thught you’d like to know I have posted a link to this post at
    http://timchesterton.blogspot.com/2009/07/just-wondering.html to show you you’re not the only one.
    In light of the way the discussion has gone, my question (again as an outsider) would be do you think Bonhoeffer was wrong to oppose Hitler? Is it wrong for oppressed South American aborigines to protest at their treatment? Was it wrong for pro-democracy demonstrators to take to the streets in Iran?

    History has papered over the cracks of the relationship between Britain and North America in the 18th century. I’m no expert but its pretty clear from the way the Empire developed subsequently that the underlying aim of the colonial power was subjection, oppression, exploitation and inculturation.
    By breaking free from Britain, the US was able to nurture a much more diverse national identity, encompassing Irish, Dutch, Polish, Jewish, Russian, Scandinavian, French, Spanish, Italian etc etc (and even eventually Native American) elements. Surely this is something to celebrate.

    There is a novel called “The two Georges” (http://www.amazon.com/Two-Georges-Novel-Alternate-America/dp/0812544595#) which speculates what might have happened if George Washington and George 111 had made peace. it is of course conjecture but a facinating element of that is the number of technological innovations we would possibly lack were it not for the foundation of the USA

    with every blessing
    Tim

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Tim, you raise some valid issues. To be honest, this particular issue (nonviolence) is one that causes much internal tension. As for Bonhoeffer, I think under the situation he finally was trying to promote a lesser-evil. I will have more on my blog in the future on this subject.

      I want to come back to the core of my argument… I am simply asking whether based on “just war theory” if the Revolutionary War was justified from a Christian perspective? Again, no matter what the result may have been, the END doesn’t justify the MEANS. Fighting a war over taxation DOES NOT qualify theologically. Preemptive war cannot be viewed as just. This is a war that was fought over the “root of all kinds of evil.”

      Also, I am ok with protest. I believe in exposing the powers of this world in nonviolent ways. Good for Iran… especially those who are nonviolent in their approach. Perhaps this is a reason that the outside world has been watching so closely.

      Last thing. Canada never fought against your country and they experience the same freedoms as the US. This would have been the more just route to have taken for the colonists.

      Well, Tim, this is a very short answer to your comments so I know they are insufficient. But hopefully you have a basic understanding about where I am coming from on this one…

      Blessings to you as well!!!!!!

  • http://slopesitter.blogspot.com/ E.A. Harvey

    I’ve been struggling with the same thing. I don’t mind the community and neighborhood celebrations so much– what gets me is how we commemorate the 4th of July in our church. Thankfully, our church toned it down this year (perhaps my e-mail after last year’s service was taken to heart– ha!), but it still made me uncomfortable. Am I there to worship my country or my God? Are we celebrating political freedom or freedom from the bondage of sin? I love my country, despite its flaws, but my allegiance is to King Jesus first and foremost, and I don’t think it is appropriate for a worship service to blur the lines between God and any one particular country.

    As far as celebrating the 4th outside of church, there has to be a balance between feeling pride in one’s country while still being able to critique its failings. It’s difficult, as every “high” point in our nation’s history is inevitably linked with some terrible missteps. I am grateful to be able to think, speak, worship, work, and rest freely, and I recognize that not everyone in the world has those freedoms. Why was I born in a free country and others were not? And while the typical line is to thank a soldier for making me free, I can’t help but think that my freedom also cost the lives of other innocent civilians.

    So what’s the appropriate response? Perhaps instead of blowing our cash on fireworks, we could give the money to those in need– perhaps to a charity that helps people in a not-so-free country. That would show adequate thanks for our freedoms and also try to pass it on to others in a peaceful manner. Just a thought.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

    Good on you, Kurt. You know I share your concern here. I, for one, love things that go bang as long as nobody’s hurt/killed by them, so I don’t care the reason, bring on the fireworks. . . ;{)

    But seriously, I do think the church needs to be in the forefront of asking the hard question about all those soldiers “dying for our freedom.” I DON’T MEAN TO SLIGHT THE SOLDIER HERE, for I highly respect the spirit in which they offer their service; however, they/we have been sold a bill of goods when told that the outcome of their action is freedom.

    1) The extent to which freedom is the outcome–even for us–doesn’t hold up well to serious scrutiny. WWII is the exception that is often used to prove the rule (though WWII was more for the freedom of the Europeans than us in America, I suspect), but the harsh reality is that most wars (ours and others’) are fought for far more complex reasons than anybody’s freedom, and often for questions of power and money. The link between Saddam Hussein or the Taliban and “our freedom” is pretty tenuous IMO. As you point out Canadians (you didn’t say so, but also Indians-of India not America-and Australians) are as free as we are without a bloody revolution. So was violence necessary to secure our freedom? Or was freedom the inevitable result of our violence? To both questions, I suggest not.

    2) The extent to which our freedom–if that is the outcome–comes at the cost of others’ death and misery is something we need to contemplate far more seriously. Is it a fair trade? The widows and orphans of Korea/Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan (or 17th-century Britain) would, I suspect, answer in the negative.

    3) The soldier is glorified for his willingness to “die for us.” But his real job is not to die (which only happens if things go badly), but rather to kill for us. I don’t want that bloodshed to be committed in my name or on my behalf–and unless I abandon this nation for which I truly am grateful, I am not “free” to have the soldier NOT kill for me. . .

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

    EA, your thoughts on an appropriate response are excellent! I think you and I are on the same wavelength on this one.

    Dan — As my comrade Rush Limbagh would say… “DIDO!”

  • James

    Taxation was not the sole cause of the complaints against British rule. You also had the Quartering Act, which allowed British soilders stationed in the colonies to essentially force the colonists to house and feed them – or even kick people out of their own homes. There was also years of back and forth diplomacy between the colonists and the parliament/crown. Ultimately, it was the British that could have avoided war by simply recognizing the claim of independence put forth by Congress.

    Ultimately there were provocations from both sides (British and American) that led to a full scare war, but the war only started after a long diplomatic process had been carried out.

  • Pingback: Unpopular Annual Post: “Why Christianity and the ’4th’ are Incompatible” OR “Why this is NOT a day to celebrate” OR “Why my friends wont like me for the next week or so” « groans from within


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