This weekend we celebrate our Independence as one nation under God. As 50 independent states in a united nation, we benefit as individuals who have the freedom to practice a variety of faith expressions, enjoy the diversity of various cultures (…this does not mean muli-culturalism), and celebrate the blessings given to a free people. Yet, it is disheartening when we pick up the newspaper and read about churches being burned to the ground, or congregants being gunned down at a prayer meeting because of racist attitudes and/or other forms of prejudice. Does religious freedom truly exist? That is a question to be pondered, and something we must consistently pray. We especially give thanks and praise for such groups as the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Alone among the great nations of the world, Americans define their identity outside the boundaries of geography or common ethnic ancestry. For us there is no fatherland; nor can most of us trace our ancestors back five and six generations or more, as the British, French, Norwegians, and Irish so proudly do. The stories of how my great grandparents immigrated into the United States, in their 20’s, simply amaze me. They yearned for a life that would bring fulfillment and blessings, and were willing to sacrifice everything for a taste of what America might provide. Our ancestors were a people who have come from every corner of the globe, most in the last century, in pursuit of a most noble and remarkable vision – that in this land men and women could live in freedom and liberty with their God-given rights respected.
It is, therefore, a common creed, not common ancestral roots, which binds us together. That creed was best expressed in the Declaration of Independence that announced, “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.” Americans are forever indebted to those who pledged their lives and fortunes and sacred honor to make this experiment in ordered liberty possible.
“Gratitude,” G.K. Chesterton wrote, “is the mother of all virtues.” As Americans, and as Christians, we have reason to be filled with gratitude at all times: gratitude to God who gave us the opportunity to come to this land and to live in freedom; gratitude to our Founding Fathers who set forth those principles that constitute our nation’s creed; and gratitude to following generations who have defended us (and those that still do today).
The history of the past shows what a difference loyalty to principled beliefs can make. America has never sought wars of expansion. It has sought to liberate and restore those it has defeated. It has shared its bounty and wealth with the poor. It has rescued the suffering. It has done this not because the fatherland orders it; rather, because our devotion to human dignity and human liberty demands it.
America is different – it is a vision, a noble idea and for that extraordinary difference, Americans should give thanks to God each day and renew a pledge to do their duty out of gratitude to Him and to our Founding Fathers.