My grandfather fought for America in World War I. He was so proud of his country and the flag he defended that he installed a flagpole in the front yard of every home he owned. Every day that I knew him, he raised the American flag at sunrise and lowered it at sunset. I still remember the pride I felt as a child on the day he first allowed me to join him for this ceremony.
However, the New York Times tells us that “what was once a unifying symbol—there is a star on it for each state, after all—is now alienating to some.” The article asserts that many now identify the flag with former President Trump and his supporters. Negative response to its claims and tone has been swift and strong.
Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-Missouri) also caused an uproar when she tweeted, “When they say that the 4th of July is about American freedom, remember this: the freedom they’re referring to is for white people. This land is stolen land and Black people still aren’t free.” Others were quick to note that she is free enough to be elected to Congress.
We can be upset with those who criticize our nation, its founding, its progress, and its flag. But we should also note this fact: unlike much of the world, we live in a nation where we are so free that we are free to criticize our nation, our leaders, and each other.
As E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in the Washington Post, “Maybe the best reason to love the United States is that it’s a place where people are free not to love it.”
“The legacy of dignity and worth”
What is the source of such freedom?
Preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 4, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described with his usual eloquence the injustice so many African Americans still faced in America. He called for justice, fair pay, and equality for all Americans.
But he did so on the basis of America’s founding creed, quoting the Declaration of Independence’s stirring proclamation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” He then claimed that this declaration “ultimately distinguishes our nation and our form of government from any totalitarian system in the world.” Dr. King explained:
“It says that each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from his hands. Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and worth of human personality.
“The American dream reminds us, and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day, that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.”
“The true ground of democracy”
Dr. King was right, of course. Because we are each created by God in his image (Genesis 1:26), we each possess “dignity and worth.” The equality promised in the Declaration of Independence finds its source in this theological truth.
However, there’s another side to this affirmation.
In his 1945 essay “Membership” (published in Weight of Glory), C. S. Lewis stated: “I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy.
“On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy.”
“Corruption and darkness will reign”
It is because we are each fallen, broken, sinful people that we cannot be trusted with unaccountable power. It is because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” that we need God (Romans 3:23).
The Constitution grants us freedom of religion because we need it. We need the God we are free to worship and trust. We need the biblical truth we are free to proclaim. We are so immoral that we need the morality taught by God’s word and empowered by his Spirit.
This is why Daniel Webster warned us so prophetically, “If the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.”
And it is why “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
Tomorrow, I intend to explore why our culture no longer fears God, why we should, and how we can. For today, let’s close with this observation by Oswald Chambers: “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”
Do you fear God today?