The late English writer, journalist, philosopher and theologian, G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “America is the only country ever founded on a creed.” The creed he was referring to is found in the first line of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which states the following:
“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.”
While historically it can be argued that the founding of the United States was never with the intention of establishing a Christian nation, nor was it ever the intent to force Christianity on Americans and its hopeful citizens, the Christian influence on our constitution, laws and practices is quite undeniable. It is reflected perhaps most clearly in the five words (bolded, my emphasis) above – all men are created equal. Men, referring to mankind, which includes both male and female. This statement is derived directly from a Biblical worldview which declares that all humans – without exception – bear the imago Dei (the Image of God), and are endowed with a unique glory that reflects the Creator that is to be recognized and protected.
This past week, most of us celebrated the birthdate of the American democracy with traditional Forth of July activities – parades, cookouts, fireworks, etc. Whether our celebrations were intentional, July 4th has historically been the day of celebrating the founding of a country that was to be built on freedom, and the protection and promotion of the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While America’s history has been, and continues to be, tarnished by failures to keep its promises to all citizens, its founding creed (all men…created equal) endures as a foundational truth that must continue to be held in highest regard and relentlessly pursued.
Distinguishing Church from State
With these things in mind, it is important that we never forget what distinguishes church and state. Many will continue to argue that certain declines in our culture were brought about by the enforcement of laws separating church and state. The 1963 ruling prohibiting state-sponsored prayer in schools has traditionally been cited in support of this argument. Others will blame moral decline on the Supreme Court’s infamous 1973 legalization of abortion. Personally, I do not agree that either of these have contributed to any greater moral decline that wasn’t already there to begin with. That being said, I do believe the latter has caused far greater damage than the former.
While it is certainly the responsibility of Christians to be active as dual-citizensof God’s Kingdom first, and America second (or whatever country we’re a citizen of), advocating for justice and human-rights, it is essential that we not place the same expectations on the country that are to be held first and highest by the Church. Whenever the Church abdicates its God-given responsibilities to the country, there will be constant disappointment. But when the Church is focused on being the Church, things like equality, life, liberty and happiness should inevitably follow, regardless of the decisions government makes.
The Cross and the Flag
The symbol of the American flag represents an almost incomprehensible list of freedoms promised to be enjoyed by its citizens, much of which have been paid for by the countless sacrifices of men and women who courageously served, acted, and in some cases, fought, to protect and provide for those freedoms. We would do well to be appreciative for this any chance we get. At the same time, for many, the flag is polarizing, representing a tarnished past (i.e: slavery and racial/ethnic segregation) along with a host of present tensions (i.e: immigration and foreign affairs). We would also do well to be considerate and aware of these perspectives, regardless of how much some may want to disagree.
While I do not intend to create any debate over these issues (although I believe Scripture is pretty clear on most of the above-mentioned issues), it is imperative to remember that freedom always comes with responsibility (another clear Biblical principle). Our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to always hold the Cross higher than the flag, while doing everything possible to contribute to the creed of all men…created equal, which the flag invariably represents. We have a responsibility to help our country continue to do this better. That’s the Church being the Church.
Often, it is not what we do, but what we do not do, that can become our greatest wrong. This is precisely something we will address in our worship services this Sunday as we begin our summer teaching series – Love Where You Live. Just as ideally it is the responsibility of our country to both protect and promote freedom, we as the Church are to play a role in both protecting the vulnerable, marginalized and those who have no voice while ALSO promoting the Biblical creed of all men created equal.
How will Salisbury be better because of what we chose to do with our freedom?