America, Freedom, and a Proclamation
Oh America. Where to begin?
It’s taken me a while to decide how to blog about Independence Day, and honestly, I’ve been pretty torn about it. On the one hand, I wanted to simply post a cute picture of me and my loved ones in our red, white and blue on Instagram like everyone else. “Happy 4th of July! We are the land of the free!”
On the other hand, I long to live in a country where we are honest with ourselves about the full breadth of our history AND that history’s present-day implications for those on the margins of society. The legacy of the removal of Native peoples from their lands and the legacy of slavery are inextricably linked to the legacy of freedom that we celebrated this weekend. And while I know that the truth of these stories makes us uncomfortable and that to reckon with them feels costly, I also know that Paul wasn’t kidding around in Galatians 5:13 when he said, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom for self-indulgence, but through love humbly serve one another.”
My sensitivity to this dichotomy between celebrating “the land of the free” and honoring the truth which exposes “the land of the once enslaved and presently disenfranchised” was exacerbated by some Twitter activity that I observed yesterday. Hip-hop artist Lecrae posted this picture in response to it being Independence Day and many of his white fans were totally undone by it:
Statements like, “Don’t make this day about race,” and “This is borderline unpatriotic,” reminded me of how unprepared many people are to go on this journey of truth-telling. Truth-telling always precedes reconciliation. And the truth is that while July 4th, 1776 was a monumental day for many, for those wrapped in darker shades of brown and black, July 4th, 1776 was simply another day of slavery. It was another day of non-freedom.
Lecrae didn’t post that picture just to make everyone angry but to point to the truth of our history and to help us begin to reckon with the fact that in a country where little Black boys can be killed by police officers who are not held accountable for their actions, we have a lot of work to do. That picture reminds us that we live in a country where immigrants are seen has inherent threats because of their race or religion. This is not okay. We have a lot of work to do. Pictures like this one force us to consider the cultural destruction that’s been inflicted upon Native peoples for literally, hundreds of years. We’ve got work to do. And I believe that scripture has a lot to say about how to move forward in light of our broken past.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom for self-indulgence, but through love humbly serve one another.”
Oftentimes, due to our nation’s value for rugged individualism, we interpret much of what Paul said to be in terms of our personal freedom and service. And that has merit and value. But what does this look like on a collective scale? How might we, as Americans, use our freedom more righteously than we have in the past? Not for self-indulgence, but through love, humbly serve others?
I think it starts with telling the truth, and with letting that truth inconvenience your everyday life. The truth is that the American legacy of freedom was and will remain very incomplete so long as that freedom is not readily available to everyone.
In my dream world, every blog that I write has a tangible, actionable response. I care deeply about the work of reconciliation being accessible to everyone. But the reality is that some truths can’t be quickly acted upon. They just need to be proclaimed and received. And my proclamation is this:
If we are going to see progress towards racial righteousness, racial equality, and racial justice in the United States of America, we are going to have to aggressively tear down idols of American triumphalism, American exceptionalism and white supremacy. This idolatry and these cultural blinders stand in direct opposition to unity and ultimately, to the downward and outward movement of the kingdom of God. America is not God’s ideal for freedom. His kingdom is. Biblical freedom is radically inclusive. It’s radically sacrificial. It’s radically full of power and love. And God’s kingdom and America’s kingdom are not synonymous ideals.
So those are my reflections on Indepence Day 2016. Feel free to comment below – I’d love to hear from you!