“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Independence Day
July 4th, 1776.
The beginning words of our Declaration, the Preamble.
Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day are the two civic festivals that are official feast days in the Episcopal Church.
It is a good time to remember, to reflect, to give thanks, to dream and to plan for what comes next.
It can be complicated for Christians, the proper way to celebrate this feast day when our primary allegiance is to a different kingdom.
It is an ancient challenge.
The New Testament has a variety of discordant responses to faith and citizenship.
There is the famous statement from Jesus to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. But he never really spelled out which was which. He leaves us with that question to sort out for ourselves. It is an important question to wrestle with.
The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 13 says to be subject to governing authorities because it is given authority by God. Yet in the Book of Revelation Chapter 13, the same governing authorities are denounced as a demonic beast belonging to Satan that persecutes the Saints.
Saint Augustine and Martin Luther both thought and wrote extensively on the subject of our dual citizenship to two kingdoms and the proper ways to live faithfully in both, but are ultimately unhelpful in resolving the question other than reminding us to not forget the importance of the question. It seems to be important that the tension always be unresolved.
Church and State have repeatedly been dominated by one another in history, both seeking legitimacy from the other. Most so called religious wars in history were actually wars of civil authority seeking religious legitimacy of some sort.
Our own country’s separation of Church and State was a result of people being fed up with the abuse of power that resulted from the Church and State scratching one another’s backs. No Divine right monarchy better tread on me.
It took a revolution to separate Church and State, a separation we still struggle to define and honor and understand. That separation created the Episcopal Church, separating the apostolic succession of Bishops from being controlled by the English Monarchy. It is hard for us to understand and feel today just how radical that change was, how great a leap of faith. Are we capable today of that kind of change?
Our Catechism says to honor the just demands of those in authority over us. That seems to be the point of tension, honoring authority yet challenging authority when the demands are unjust.
As people of faith, we are to be especially vigilant students of authority, honoring just demands and challenging unjust demands, holding civil authorities accountable to a higher standard.
The hard part is to know which demands are just and which are unjust. The Declaration of Independence is all about challenging unjust demands, that challenge created this country.
So how to live in that tension? How to be citizens of two kingdoms? How are we to be students of authorities’ just demands?
It all begins with worship, with offering all that we are, by offering up all our flags at the altar.
The bread and wine of our offering is blessed, and transformed and returned that we may, in turn, be transformed as agents of dual citizenship, who can walk on the edge, honoring the tension, transforming the world into the kingdom where authority’s demands are just, pleasing and good, where arrogant nationalism becomes a humble patriotism.
Be blessed this Independence Day. Keep loving the question.
Keep Living the Question.