“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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”
But this year I spent some time with my good friend, Google, digging into our collective roots, reading our Declaration of Independence, and ruminating on what our unique society has created and taken over the course of nearly 240 years of being.
The quotation above is just a small snippet from the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, laying the groundwork for setting forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country in the eyes of the world. While a vote in the Continental Congress severing our ties actually happened on July 2, 1776 and there is some dispute about when the Declaration was signed, some suggesting dates as late as August, July 4 has come to be the date when we celebrate this document and the foundation it laid for our country.
As much as we celebrate, I wonder how much we believe the words of the document itself? Do we really believe 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?” Of course, Mr. Jefferson, as chief author of the Declaration, speaks in the mode of his day. I would hope that our postmodern sensibilities would include women in our belief of equality, although we’ve had voting rights for less than 95 years. And there are so many other glaring inequalities that you and I could cite.
Even as I write this, I wonder where to take my stand. The 56 signers of the Declaration obviously felt compelled to take their stand, to stake their reputations and their lives with bold strokes of ink. A wise colleague of mine differentiates carefully between “kingdom issues” and the sensationalized issues we see bandied about by pundits. He takes his stand on matters of the kingdom, those things that are close to the heart of God. The other he lets fall away like dross.
I appreciate his wisdom because I’ve seen too many good and godly people take their stand and alienate people left and right. Our magnificent nation staked its claims on these self-evident truths of equality and yet like so many of us, individually, has wandered, strayed, and sinned with startling regularity. Jesus cries, “"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).
I wonder what Jesus cries when he looks over our nation. Are we willing? As Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, “If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world - wings spread, breast exposed - but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”
Jesus chooses to identify as a mother hen - no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles - who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. Which Jesus does, arms spread, breast exposed.
I believe God’s Word still speaks, seeking to gather us in, guiding us in the ways that lead to life. If we mean what we say, let’s take our stand. May we use our independence in ways that glorify God!