“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
Perspective matters! Yes, I am very aware of the blight slavery has left on our country and the scars that remain. Like everything else, context matters. As I write this, I am on my way to MN to celebrate the 4th of July with some family and friends. Many black Americans don't see this celebration as a celebration of freedom since many of them continued to be enslaved for another 80 years. Last night I watched a young black man being interviewed and he said he would celebrate Juneteenth, but not the 4th of July. I understand why he might feel that way, but I would like to invite him to celebrate both.
Yes, it's true slaver was around at our founding and continued to be around and legal for another 100 years. As I am sure you know, many of our founders owned slaves. But contrary to Senator Tim Kaine's claim that America invented slavery, it was around for thousands of years before July 4, 1776. Africans enslaved other Africans, Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans, Arabs enslaved all kinds of people, etc. Of course, that justifies no one! It does give some important historical context.
The Declaration of Independence is the document that declared our independence and laid out some important foundation truths based on a Judeo-Christian ethic. Specifically, it says, "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." Our nation was unable to keep what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as "a promise," in its founding, but the promise was made nonetheless. Abraham Lincoln would make a down payment with the Emancipation Proclamation. Fredrick Douglas said Independence Day didn't bring freedom, but stripes to his back. This holiday was not his and not the black man's celebration of freedom that it was and is for the rest of us. Yet, Booker T. Washington, a former slave, was picked to lead a new school that was being started by former slave and former slave owner Lewis Adams and George Washington Campbell. Booker arrived at the school named Tuskegee near the end of June in 1881, 16 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. On July 4th Booker officially opened that school. This landmark moment, in some sense reclaimed this celebration of freedom for the black person.
Nevertheless, America had, as King put it, "defaulted on her promise." Slaves had been freed, but inequity still prevailed. In his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech King called to collect on the promise made in the Declaration of Independence. While racism and hatred will never disappear completely from the human heart (short of God's eternal kingdom), America is making good on its promise, however tardy and imperfectly. This holiday of liberty and freedom is for all Americans regardless of color. Some of have suggested that Juneteenth should be a celebration of freedom of black people. Indeed, it should be and I believe will be as soon as next year. I will join in the celebration of the day that those in Texas heard the news, some 2 1/2 years after the fact, that slaves were free. There remained work to be done to be sure, but that was a momentous day. Likewise, I would invite people of all ethnicities and shades of color to celebrate the 4th of July as the day freedom was promised and in so doing claim that promise as their own. That freedom and liberty spoken of in the Declaration of Independence was not given or granted by America's founding fathers, it was granted by God. It had been infringed upon in many ways, including slavery, for centuries and millennia. America's founders in their imperfect and fallen state caught a glimpse, however brief, of the heart of God. As the apostle Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
The 4th of July 1776 established a foundation of freedom upon which a nation of liberty could be built. When we celebrate independence, we do so realizing that freedom and liberty with all its responsibilities and duties is an ideal we strive for and have made progress towards.
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John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.