1545) The Declaration of Dependence (a)

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           Does the Independence Day holiday have anything to do with religion?  No, say many folks in the church.  God is God of all people, not just of the United States, so church is not place for any sort of national pride, or, for the observation of national holidays.  That is what many folks in the church say.

            And many folks outside of the church, in the society at large, would say the same thing—that religion has nothing to do with or say about our nation’s Independence Day celebration.  The church, they would say, has no business sticking its big nose into any part of our national life in any way, political, cultural, or moral.  Talking about God has no place in American society, because then we have to decide which gods we are going to honor, and there are too many different religions, and many do not believe in God at all.  And, besides that, didn’t the Founding Fathers insist on the separation of Church and State?  That is what many people in our society say.

            However, the birth of this nation has much to do with faith, religion, and morality; that is, if we take seriously the words of the Founding Fathers themselves.  The Declaration of Independence declared the colonies’ wish to be independent of Great Britain; but it also, at the same time, was a declaration of dependence upon God.  The primary author of that Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was probably one of the least religious of the Founding Fathers;  yet, he did not hesitate to base this important document on “the Laws of nature, and nature’s God.”  Not only that, but that same God, the Declaration says, “Created all men equal and endowed them with certain unalienable rights.”  The declaration then concluded “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”

            We have a right to be free, it was declared, from all the abuses from the tyranny of British rule.  Where does this freedom come from?  It comes from our Creator, from our God; so says the document our nation was founded upon.  While the Founding Fathers and the signers of the Declaration of Independence had a wide range of views on religion, this belief in a higher power and authority was held by almost all of them.

            As much as we take our freedom and democracy for granted today, it was not at all assumed in those early days that it would work out so well.  Those early Americans in the late 1700’s, after winning their freedom, had the task of putting together an entirely new form of government.  It was a daunting task.  First of all, they had to decide how to order this new government; then, get a majority of the thirteen colonies to agree to it; and then, get it going and sustain it.

            The major problem in the formation of our new government, was the huge religious and moral issue of slavery.  This was a moral abomination to many Christians in the North, but it was an item on which the Southern colonies would not compromise.  If provisions for slavery’s continuance had not been included in the constitution, there would have been no United States of Amercian.  Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave-owner, feared for the future of the nation starting out with such division.  Four score and seven years later, it took a horrific Civil War to rid this nation of that curse.

            The problem getting such a democracy off the ground was summarized by Ben Franklin, the oldest member of the Constituting Convention.  Franklin observed all the proceedings, but seldom spoke.  He did, however, once describe a pure democracy as follows:  “Democracy is like two wolves and one rabbit voting on what to have for lunch.”  So the Founding Fathers, with no illusions about sin and the temptations of power, designed our Constitution with a brilliant and elaborate system of checks and balances to limit and control not only the power of the elected officials, but also the power of the majority rule itself.

             Even at that– said many of the wisest of those who put it together– even with all the checks and balances in place, this democracy will work only with a religious and moral people.  Only with the positive influence of religion and the churches can a people have the wisdom and the character necessary to govern themselves, so said George Washington, John Adams, and many others. 

            Therefore, on the one hand, all religious people can celebrate Independence Day and the freedom of religion we have here.  On the other hand, all citizens should appreciate the moral foundation and strength that religious faith brings to the government, without which we will not survive as a free nation.  (continued…)

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Psalm 47:7-8  —  God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.

Psalm 46:10  —  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 115:1  —  Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.

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While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above;
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America, my home, sweet home.

–By Irving Berlin (1888-1989), while serving in the U. S. Army in WW I; revised in 1939 as Hitler was threatening the world (Berlin was a Jewish immigrant).

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