I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia, the ideological home for this grand experiment called America.
Visiting the Liberty Bell, Constitution Hall, Betsy Ross’ home and other historic places has reignited an awe, a stop-in-your-tracks reminder that this is one amazing place.
Everyone wants our freedom
When I think about how these founders struggled to create a more perfect union, one formed out of different sects of thought, philosophical underpinnings, and stubborn pioneers, it is amazing.
When they signed their name to the Declaration, the document that proclaimed freedom from tyranny, they did so, signing away their fortunes, and in many instances, their lives. It was a great sacrifice – one that we have forgotten in these revisionist days of historical introspection.
They rang the bell for Freedom, Liberty, and Truth.
I spoke with an Uber driver who also was a local pastor in a small African American church. He was so proud of his city and how they birthed a nation and indeed, provided hope around the world.
“And we’re still doing it,” he said. “Everyone wants to come to America because we represent freedom. We are freedom.”
The backdrop of slavery
Then there is slavery. Even at the formation of the country, it was a divisive issue causing much arguing in the very halls where the document was born. An early draft of the Declaration of Independence addressed the issue, attacking the slave markets of King George. But it was later dropped to unify the states.
The first president, George Washington, was a slaveowner, assuming his father’s estate, including the slaves, at the age of 11. He supported legislation opposing slavery. However, he stubbornly kept his slaves until his death. Still, he set the stage for freedom — for all of us.
Conversely, his vice president and the second U.S. President, John Adams, was not a slave owner and was an early abolitionist.
So, from the very beginning, it was terribly complicated and divisive. The struggle was fought throughout the colonies, often neighbor vs. neighbor. Slavery wasn’t invented here, but it was too easily borrowed.
We continued to wrestle with the issue so much that we went to war over it, along with other simmering disagreements, eventually costing the lives of 620,000 Americans – roughly the same number of Americans that have died in every conflict since.
The very room where the Declaration of Independence was formulated by these 57 men. At stake were their fortunes. Their reputation. Their very lives. Photo by D. Rupert
No room for shame
The shame we cast over this period seems to be reignited today, casting a shadow over the great things we’ve done ever since. There are efforts to rename streets and landmarks and wipe the stain any memory of slaveholders and sympathizers. Austin, TX, is seriously considering renaming their city, the state capitol because founder Steve Austin defended slavery. Here in Colorado, a candidate for governor is being called into question because his grandfather was a Klansman almost 100 years ago.
Let’s slow down. Assumed or inherited guilt is simply placing the evil of others on the innocent. Who wins at that? I have no problem admitting to our sins in the past. That’s who we were. But as a nation, we struggled, we fought and eventually, truth won out. That’s something to celebrate. Please do not rewrite our history to simply make us feel better.
Freedom isn’t easy. It isn’t pretty.
As our struggle over slavery shows, Freedom in principle is different than Freedom in action. These early freedoms were first honed in the religious community. If they didn’t find a way to live together, despite worshipping separately, they would never create a society that would function in solidarity. The freedom of religion didn’t lead to a decline in faith or attendance in church, rather it helped them flourish.
And that example carried to the rest of society.
It’s not always easy. It’s not always pretty. But I’ll choose freedom any day. It’s something that God has put in the heart of every man and woman and we all yearn for it. Deep down, that’s what we all are fighting for.
My Philadelphia trip reminded me of what a precious gift this is — from God and one embraced by my nation. And for that, I am grateful.
Tune in for the next parts of this discussion on Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion