Oh boy. This has been an article that I’ve been mulling over for months now. It’s a topic I’ve really wanted to take up, but I’ve never felt like it was time. And I probably have felt that way because I feel like I’m going to take a TwitFace beating for it. But now that it’s the day after Independence Day, and we’re all back to work, and we’ve all exercised our patriotic right to blow things up and eat meat that’s been smoked or grilled over open flame, let me address a topic that I’ve not heard many take up.
You might think that when I speak of the spiritual legacy of America, that I’m referring to the history of the Christian church on our fair shores. You’d be mistaken. Although the Lord’s Church has a rich history here, it’s not the focus of this discussion. A spiritual legacy isn’t necessarily your religious practice or preference, although it can include those things. The thing that led me to this present moment, working out the details of this discussion, was listening to NPR on July 4th.
For the past twenty nine years, NPR has maintained a tradition of a public reading of the Declaration of Independence on each July 4th. You can listen to this year’s reading by clicking here. As I listened to this founding document being read aloud by the different voices of NPR journalists, it reminded me of a question I’ve been pondering for a long time. Is the spiritual legacy of this country one of rebellion? The United States of America was birthed from a rebellion against King George III of Great Britain. As the journalists read through the Declaration of Independence, the grievances of the colonists against the throne were itemized. They included:
- He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
- He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
- He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
- He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
- He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
- For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:f or protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States
- For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.
- For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.
- He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
There are more, but these are a fair representation of them all. King George III was an unfair, unjust monarch, unfit to rule according to the grievances of the American colonists. So, our forefathers successfully rebelled against his rule.
I am grateful for this. I need to say this here and now before I go any further. I’m grateful for the revolution that happened from 1775 to 1783. I’m grateful for the men and women who fought to free us from the oppressive rule of King George III. I love the United States of America, and as far as earthly nations go, she has my complete allegiance.
However, even with all of the good outcome of our revolution, it doesn’t negate the roots of how we got here. We arrived at this present place through rebellion. We arrived at this place by our forefathers turning a blind eye to parts of the Sermon on the Mount, and Romans chapter thirteen, and Jesus’ teaching on taxes. It wasn’t only a rebellion against King George III, but it was a rebellion against the some of the plain teaching of Scripture. Let me highlight a sampling of the Scriptures I’m referring to, and then draw a comparison between our American forefathers, and our early Church fathers in how they handled oppression.
The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. – Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. – Matthew 5:9
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. – Matthew 5:39-41
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. – Matthew 5:44-45
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12
Jesus on Taxes
And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Matthew 22:20-21
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment – Romand 13:1-2
The colonial decisions that led to the American Revolution in one way or another ignored these teachings and found a justification for doing so. Therefore, let’s do a little comparison. It is commonly believed that our American forefathers were Christians, or at least deeply influenced by Christian teaching. I want to compare their actions against those of the early church fathers, who by comparison, were oppressed by the Romans far beyond anything King George III did to American colonists. The Romans were brutal to the point of immediate execution upon a person confessing their faith in Christ. For roughly the first three hundred years of the Church, there was severe persecution (read this article at Christianitytoday.com for a brief summation), yet the Christians during those years, maintained a commitment to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles which often led them to martyrdom. There were no armed Christian uprisings against the empire, and certainly by the end of the 2nd century, the population of Christians in the empire approached sufficient numbers to attempt such a feat.
The early Church fathers instigated no one to rebel against Rome. They understood that the authorities in power, pagan or not, were instituted by God, so they would not raise their arms against them, and neither did they attempt to hide their faith in Christ from the Romans. They chose persecution over hiding their light under a basket, even if that meant the loss of liberty, property, or even life.
Our American forefathers did not hold to the course of the early Church fathers. They rebelled against the throne, fought, and won their independence by their own actions. So the question is were our forefathers making Biblically informed choices when they chose to rebel? Were they keeping in mind that whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed? Did our forefathers choose rebellion over waiting patiently for God to deliver them? It’s all conjecture, but who’s to say that if rebellion hadn’t carried the day that independence wouldn’t have eventually been gained without bloodshed?
Of course, I understand that in asking all this, I’m leaving out some important thoughts. Since America won, doesn’t it make sense that their cause was on God’s side? Perhaps, but you have to be careful about assuming that a favorable outcome means that God was with you. Why would God bless an act of rebellion against the very authorities he placed in power? See, now you have to face a reality check. America has been called a Christian nation, a nation favored by God, etc., but what if that’s all smoke and mirrors? What if we’re making the dangerous assumption that a favorable outcome for us means that God is with us? What if all the success of America hasn’t actually been God’s hand of blessing upon our nation? Success can be a curse as easily as it can be a blessing. We succeeded in our initial rebellion. And this legacy has been handed down, generation to generation.
Our current spiritual condition is abysmal. Not only have we inherited a legacy of rebellion (which can be traced through our history… Civil War, wild west, riots, looting, protests, civil disobedience, etc.), but add to that a dose of apostasy and antichrist. We may have labeled ourselves a Christian nation, but our spiritual legacy is tied up in rebellion, and disregard for the teachings of Christ. How does that make us Christian?
Please allow me to clarify. I am not a strict pacifist. I do believe there are times for war. I do believe that the actions of our forefathers were just, inasmuch as they rose up against the British on behalf of the defenseless, the marginalized, and the oppressed. I don’t have all the answers. And I don’t pretend to be an expert on the finer points of the American Revolution, or the spiritual beliefs of all our forefathers. These are just the things that have been flying around my head for a while. I suppose I’m on a journey to put my finger on why we are who we are, and how we arrived here from where we were. My intention here isn’t to offend, but to seek insights. I think I’ve been respectful, but if you’ve found this article offensive, that was not my intention. This is just some honest out loud thinking that I’m inviting you to do with me.
So I leave you with these questions. Based on Biblical teaching, not feelings of patriotism or tradition, did America start off on the wrong spiritual foot by rebelling against the authority of the British throne? Does our legacy of rebellion offer some reason for the periodic social upheavals we’ve witnessed in our history and offer some insights for our future? If our forefathers had behaved more like the early Church fathers, do you think the spiritual legacy of our people would be different? Leave your thoughts in the comments, or message me with them on FB or Twitter. I’m looking forward to your input.