Good morning on this Sunday, July 4th–a day we call Independence Day. Other words we use for “independence” are words like liberty and, yes, freedom. These tenets help lay the foundation for the philosophy and even the mission of our country.
That word “freedom” has a lot of connotations. Os Guinness in his book Last Call for Liberty, noted:
America means freedom, and Americans are sure of that, but what does freedom mean? Americans are not so sure about that, and many of their fights are over different ideas of freedom.
Let’s take a brief stroll through our history.
- During colonial times (that is, the 1700s leading up to and after this country achieved her independence from Britain), freedom was from the tyranny of England and King George III. So this was both a political and religious freedom since in England, the reigning monarch was also the head of the national church.
- Leading up to the Civil War, freedom referred to two primary avenues. One was from the abolitionist movement of Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison to secure freedom for the slaves who were located primarily in the South. The other were from the politicos and plantation owners in the South who wanted freedom in the form of states rights in order to govern their own states freely from government coercion–which, according to the Confederate States of America constitution, included the maintaining of slavery to help bolster their economy of King Cotton (Article 4, Section 3). Lincoln’s vision, as spoken of in the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 spoke of a “new birth of freedom.”
- In the 20th century, the desire was to spread the mission across the world, making the world “safe for democracy” which would give people the ability to hold elections and have a voice–tough when in the South they were denying blacks the right to vote until 1965.
- FDR spoke of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
- Freedom for today? Here, I rely on Os Guinness his book “Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Biggest Threat.” He differentiates a 1776 freedom over and against a 1789 freedom. A 1776 freedom is that codified in the Declaration of Independence: “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.” See how this freedom is connected to a quasi-religious Supreme Being? We can see some overlap in understanding that God created us as imagebearers with their own freedom to pursue what they wanted in life. The 1789 freedom coincides with the French Revolution (Bastille Day, July 14, 1789), being untied to the Pope and any religious tethering, with a freedom that is more humanistic and entirely secular.
Freedom has a lot of connotations when it comes to our history. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet there is a freedom that needs clarifying even more, and that’s the freedom that Christ provides.