Sunday, July 1, 2007

Something to consider as we celebrate our Independence...

In the known history of the world, the United States of America is a unique and matchless phenomenon. There has never been and, I daresay, will never be another nation like ours. The freedom and prosperity we enjoy as a whole is unparalleled, even in the developed world. This week we will celebrate the first steps toward the creation of our country in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and rightly so. Something very significant happened in 1776, something of which I'm not sure the leaders of our proto-nation were fully aware. As the country celebrates, I will be enjoying fellowship with my church family at a picnic, with food, games, and a fireworks show at the end. I'm sure it will be a wonderful time.

As we memorialize our Independence Day, I would like to offer a humble word of caution. It has become commonplace in evangelical circles, particularly around times of intense patriotism such as these, to speak of the need for America to "get back" to the "Christian principles" upon which this nation was founded. Certainly, I am not going to argue the fact that our country was conceived with Judeo-Christian values as a foundation, nor will I debate that the majority of our founding fathers and mothers were Christians (mostly Protestants). That said, I must quibble with the belief that our nation must "get back" to a supposed pristine Christian state from times past.

Most of our early mothers and fathers participated in, or allowed for systematic violence, both physical and spiritual, against indigenous people groups ("Native Americans") whose land they conquered and then against black Africans who were in their care. Surely God was neither honored nor pleased with the mass enslavement of one race and the almost total annihilation of another, while the women and children of both were routinely abducted, raped, and mistreated. This is, of course, apart from the way Anglo women were treated as inferior and unintelligent creatures, incapable of any real contributions to society. Whatever else is right about America, claims to a "Christian heritage" cannot cover over or erase these original sins.

A further illustration of the bigotry of our founding fathers is found in the Constitution itself, in which black African slaves were to be considered only three-fifths of a person. (Yes, its really in there. I’ve read it myself.) This infamous blot on an otherwise ingenious founding document (nicely called the “constitutional compromise” by many historians) is an embarrassment and a shameful reality for patriotic Christians everywhere. I think that it is an affront to black Americans—not to mention our black brothers and sisters in Christ—for us to speak about the Christian principles we need to "get back" to, when these same principles commited such gross examples of oppression.

In conclusion, then, I would like to propose that we put aside all language of "getting back" to our Christian heritage, which unwittingly implies that the things I detail above don't matter. It seems to me that the blessings of God upon us then may have been despite our many egregious sins and failures, not because of our consistent faithfulness to God’s standards. Instead, I think we should be challenged to seek after a better, more God-honoring America in the future. There's no need to "get back" to anything for this, only to press on toward the future, praying and working in the power of the Holy Spirit to see more and more citizens of the United States become citizens of the Kingdom of God.


Debbie Kaufman said...

I like the way you think Emily and I couldn't agree more.

Alycelee said...

Bengot crucified for the post about taking the American flag out of the church sanctary. (Was that a post or a speech?)
Anyway, good thoughts Emily.
I'm surprised you don't have more comments about this one.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Yeah, I thought I'd stay away from the flags in the sanctuary issue. Its a very regional and personal thing. Its hard to argue with the evils of slavery and genocide, though. :)

Thanks for the comments, ladies.

Grace and peace,


Byroniac said...

There is an interesting article on Wikipedia concerning the three-fifths compromise, and the reasons for it. It might surprise some to read that slaveholders in the South wanted blacks counted as full persons for governmental representative purposes, while Northern abolitionists desired that slaves not be counted as people at all! Yes, believe it or not.

The reasons for the three-fifths compromise boiled down to basically to how much representation in the government would be obtained. Counting slaves as full persons for enumeration would greatly increase the political power of the Southern voters, since many of them owned slaves and slaves could not vote. Northern abolitionists desired that slaves NOT be counted as full persons (only wanted free persons counted), simply to restrict the representation and therefore political strength of the South. The three-fifths compromise reduced the potential voting power for the South against abolitionist concerns, while at the same time, allowing a three-fifths evaluation of non-voting slaves in order to grant some political power to the South.

Though I consider myself a Southerner, I for one am deeply sorry we ever had such an un-Christian institution as slavery in this country. In fact, one of the fundamental causes, if not the main cause, of the foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention was support for the cause of slavery. And I was not even aware of this as an SBC-member until a few short years ago.

Byroniac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Byroniac said...

Sorry that last link will not post. But you can go to Google for "SBC renounces racist past - Southern Baptist Convention" and find it.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Thanks for explaining the details further. I have heard that explanation before and it makes perfect sense in light of the power-wrangling going on in the early part of our history.

I included the bit about the three-fiths compromise because I don't think many Americans know anything about it. Some years ago, I heard a man in my church state that the Constitution was "divinely inspired." How scary is that statement? What he meant, of course, was that God was working in the formation of our country, but what came out was something very different.

Thanks again for the information.

Grace and peace,


Anonymous said...

The balance of powers in our Constitution was a first, and the careful set-up for amendments was a great stroke. This gov't was put in place without a great impetus to grow its power until much later, and small gov't allowed people to get used to the optimism of a middle class hoping to succeed.

The 3/5 rule doesn't get much airplay these days, does it?
Slavery really was an inhumane mess, and still is today in the Arab world under Islamic rule.

Steve Austin