Use your freedom to help others

Published 4:13 pm Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

BY Chris Adams

Independence Day isn’t just a day for fireworks, hot dogs, and an overreliance on booze to make a family gathering somewhat enjoyable. If we are willing to be curious, it can be an opportunity to think about the deeper meaning of freedom and inspire us to make it more than just an ideal. We can make it a reality.

When I think about freedom, the question comes to mind: “What are we free from?” If you asked the original Revolutionaries, they would tell us it’s freedom from tyranny. Their fight was against an empire that, according to the early founders, oppressed the settlers of the colonies and kept an imperial boot on their necks.

That’s the story that we have told since the late 1700’s, and it has informed how we understand our identity as Americans. But we, as a society, have the power to shape this narrative. We are the ones who won’t stand for tyranny and oppression. We are the ones who will stand up and fight against any and all comers who think their ideologies should supplant the basic freedoms outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

That’s a good story, but history is more complex than that simplistic reduction of our tale of independence. I don’t need to remind you that, at the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, freedom was a possession of white men.

Chattel slavery was raging, and women couldn’t vote or own property when our founding fathers declared 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.” It’s evident that, to the founders, freedom meant something different than a universally binding idea for all human beings. It was just freedom for some human beings.

Brave people have risen up through our nation’s history to challenge that narrow application of freedom. The Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the entire Civil Rights Movement pushed us closer to freedom for all, but we haven’t yet made it to the Promised Land envisioned by Dr. King. It was only in 2015 that marriage was opened to same-sex couples, and even still, there are attempts to roll back that glorious ruling by the Supreme Court.

Freedom brings with it obligations. It is not an invitation to celebrate your absolute uniqueness and individual independence. There’s a maxim made famous by Dr King that sums up the continued struggle in our nation: “No one is free until we are all free.” When freedom is only the possession of those in power or those with influence, then freedom doesn’t really exist. It becomes a fictional ideal yet to be realized, which is tragic because, in this age of digital and global connection, there should remain no reason for some to enjoy the benefits of freedom while others suffer under oppression.

As a Christian, I believe that my freedom exists for the sake of others. I have been made free in Christ and enjoy the freedoms afforded me by our nation so that I will be inspired to labor for the sake of all those who haven’t yet tasted the freedom I have. This motivates me to continue working for justice, and acceptance, and the emergence of the Beloved Community.

So, after the burgers and hot dogs, after the cold sodas and beer, and after the fireworks, which remind us of the powerful beauty of our nation’s story of independence, what will you actually do with your freedom? What will you accomplish with the freedoms afforded you? Hopefully, this July 4th inspires you to continue working for those who haven’t yet seen the Promised Land.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.