Painting by Frederic Edwin Church, 1861, oil on paper, “Our Banner in the Sky”, H/T: http://www.urbancure.org/
My friend Aja sent me an email that had the picture above in there. After yesterday’s post with bad kitschy paintings, it’s nice to look at art that combines country with some class. I wonder if it’s us modern folks that have a real problem doing this? The painting above is from the Civil War Era.
I didn’t do much of anything yesterday. No barbeque, pool or beach. No fireworks. I only went out in the morning (with Z who really has a mommy sensor which means when I’m up, she is, too, no matter how early) to Starbucks and CVS for some hair products. The rest of the day was spent basking in the air conditioning. I’m not anti-Independence Day. Growing up, my family didn’t do much (my dad worked for the phone company and would do 16 hour shifts on the day to bring in a nice holiday bonus), so I guess it just has carried on with me. And now our family.
I read a few posts yesterday that made me pause and rethink my near ambivalence on the day. First, this post by Carson T. Clark at Hardlining Moderate. Carson is an Anglican and brings up his denominational ties to England.
As an Anglican Christian, I’m a spiritual heir of that distinctly English form of historic Christianity. Yet, as an American Christian, this is quite the elephant in the room every July 4th. This raises an important question: How does being Anglican influence my view of Independence Day? I cannot reasonably speak for all American Anglicans/Episcopalians on this matter, but I can speak to my perspective. To my mind, the American Revolution is not unlike Henry VIII and that whole saga. I don’t buy the justification that was offered, but out of that troublesome mire arose something commendable–even beautiful–that I love and value….
In sum, as an Anglican how do I view Independence Day? Not unlike other pacifist-inclined Christians, I suppose. Am I deeply thankful to live in the United States of America? Yes. Do I love this country? Yes. At the same time it’s plainly evident that a great many Christians living here suffer from adjective-noun confusion. We’re more Christian Americans rather than American Christians. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not an eschatological escapist, so I’ve come not to like the juxtaposition between one’s “heavenly citizenship” and our “earthly citizenship.” Yet I do think our covenantal citizenship must take precedent over our national citizenship. On Independence Day, as every other day, my allegiance is to Christ and His Kingdom alone.
As a fellow Anglican, I appreciate Carson’s tempered but thoughtful take. My friend Kandi, now writing at Brown Girl Wild World (check it out!), discussed the painful history often overlooked amidst the festivities of the day.
I was about to post on Facebook today “Happy Independence Day!”… and then I paused. Every year the 4th of July comes and I mindlessly wish everyone a Happy Independence Day. Not today though. Today I chose to question myself: Do you really understand what the 4th of July represents? You were taught in school what this date signifies but do you claim its significance for yourself? Now, when I pause to ask myself a question I usually work to answer the question to come to a resolve within myself.
The first person that popped into my head after I asked myself these questions was the abolitionist and former slave, Mr. Fredrick Douglass and his Independence Day Speech of 1852. I re-read it today and got goosebumps! Impactful, world changing TRUTH usually has that effect on me. Here are some excerpts below:
“I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you, that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation (Babylon) whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin.”
“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”
I forgot. I forgot about this speech and I forgot that Africans were slaves while these ex-Britons were declaring their freedom. I forgot to remember and I am ashamed.
How do such powerful truths in the Declaration of Independence, that helped to declare freedom for these ex-Britons on July 4th, 1776, take 87 years after it was issued to be understood that it also incorporated African slaves?!
That means they did not even consider the slaves as men or human, thus they had no rights. Eighty Seven (87) years later slaves were granted their freedom but they still were not treated as “…all men being created equal.” It wasn’t for another 101 years before African Americans and other minorities received equal rights as American citizens.
Furthermore, what about the Native Americans of whom so many of the ex-Britons killed and stole the land from on which they then stood and claimed their freedom on July 4th 1776?
There’s two reasons I’m convinced that celebrating Independence Day celebrates an unjust war.
2 Reasons: Unjust Cause & Hypocrisy
First, nonviolence was normative prior to Constantine. However, even if you believe that there are moments when violence is justifiable by classical “just war” criteria, the Revolutionary War does not meet those standards. Consider this summary: “Wars, to be just, must be fought under established governments, they must restore justice or preserve peace, they must be a last resort after exhausting peaceful means to solve a conflict, and they must be fought with the minimum of violence necessary and with proper safeguards for noncombatants.”
The Declaration states that “when a long train of abuses and usurpations… design to reduce them under absolute despotism…” it’s right to “throw off such a government.”  The document goes on to list about twenty grievances including: frustrations with taxation, troops quartered, ignoring murder, lack of Parliamentary representation, and more. Most historians agree that the Revolution was a “tax revolt, first and foremost.”
In regards to taxes, the mantra “no taxation without representation” rings in our social studies books. The question to ask is the nature of the taxes leading up to the war. These taxes are connected to another war: the French and Indian War (1754-1763). When the colonists were threatened in conflict, who came to save the day??? The British!!! So much, that the debt of England had increased by £130,000,000 during the war.
To alleviate the heavy burden, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. Later, the Tea tax was added to help the importer who was facing financial difficulties. Oddly enough, even during the events leading up to the Revolution taxes were significantly lower and tea cheaper in the Colonies than in England! “The tax burden of the nearly two million colonists was per capita only one twenty-fifth of the roughly 8.5 million residents of Britain.” Does that change your view of taxation and the Revolution?
Unfortunately, the reality that Parliament could impose taxes, led the colonists to fear that further controls would be taken. This led the famous Boston Tea Party, which then led England sending troops to regulate the lawlessness. Sadly, as history shows, some colonists believed that this was all part of some conspiracy to eventually eliminate all liberty, so they took up arms and fired the first shot at Lexington. No such thing was ever discussed by Parliament. Not only so, but the relationship between the Colonies and England were no different than modern U.S. policy in Puerto Rico – who get taxed without representation.
The second reason that the Revolution clearly doesn’t fit the category of “just war” is hypocrisy. Instead of going into details, let’s go to one of the most credible Christian voices in history, John Wesley:
Look into America… see that Negro, fainting under the load, bleeding under the lash! He is a slave. And is there ‘no difference’ between him and his master? Yes; the one is screaming ‘Murder! Slavery!’ the other silently bleeds and dies! ‘But wherein then consists the difference between liberty and slavery?’ Herein: You and I, and the English in general, go where we will, and enjoy the fruits of our labours: This is liberty. The Negro does not: This is slavery. Is not then all this outcry about liberty and slavery mere rant, and playing upon words?
The very men that worried about becoming the slaves of ol’ King George, perpetuated one of the worst systems of slavery in the world! Consider the words of historian, Mark Noll:
Only one population in the colonies clearly was justified by classical Christian reasoning in taking up arms to defend itself—the half-million or so enslaved African Americans who were held in bondage as the result of armed attacks upon peaceful noncombatants.
If ever there was a situation that called for “just war,” it was the first century. The Roman Empire oppressed and killed people in Israel. There was no liberty for the Jewish people. Yet, Jesus taught the exact opposite of revolution – “But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil!” (Matthew 5.39, Kingdom New Testament). Even if one holds to the possibility of a “just war,” historically, the victory we celebrate as Americans every 4th of July, does not count. May we quit appealing to pseudo “just war” theories and start appealing to just Jesus, because the only Independence Day worth celebrating is Easter – which reminds us that violence doesn’t win because the tomb is empty!
Lot’s to ponder.