Hot takes are for chumps or experts. I’m not an expert on much, if anything. And I definitely don’t wanna be known as a chump. But as I sit on my back porch enjoying some wonderfully suffocating Mississippi heat on this July 4, I thought I’d share a few meager thoughts on celebrating Independence Day from a Christian worldview.
Reader beware: No one could ever label me as a patriot, and I’m not overly patriotic. I love history and am grateful for the independence America gained in the late 1700s. Admittedly, I’m probably less patriotic than I’ve ever been. That’s probably because I’m guilty of being a prisoner of the moment. I’m more pessimistic than I should be about politics. To be honest, this latest political season has left me discouraged, defeated, and disappointed in many Republican and evangelical leaders.
However, I love my country. I love my country regardless of who holds the presidency or which party dominates Congress. I love the inherent and basic human freedoms granted us by God and recognized by the Constitution. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts, for whatever they may be worth, on celebrating Independence Day as a Christian.
Being citizens of a country as free and powerful as the United States should cause us to feel gratitude toward God for providentially placing us here. Being proud to be an American should cause us to be humbled by God’s providence. We contributed nothing to the founding or development of this country. We did nothing to achieve a birthright to the privileges and freedoms America provides. We were simply born here. The fact that I was born in Kentucky instead of North Korea is a mysterious grace from God. I can raise my family without fear and can expect a relatively easy, comfortable, and prosperous life.
However, our celebration of our American citizenship shouldn’t cause Christians to forget their heavenly citizenship. Because we have dual citizenship on earth and in heaven, we should be mindful of God’s providential placement of us in our earthly home. We are citizens of a vastly powerful and advanced nation. We have wealth other civilizations, peoples, and nations could only dream of having.
But what are we doing with the freedoms and privileges the Lord has blessed us with in this country? Are we stewarding them well? Are we leveraging our position as Americans to advance the kingdom that will never end?
If celebrating American freedom is an end in itself for us, we will have wasted our lives. Protecting our American freedoms only matters if we are willing to risk our lives so that others may walk in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And ultimately, our hope and work as Christians should be to leverage and steward our American citizenship so that others would gain heavenly citizenship.
How can we not stop at celebrating, but also steward our American freedom well? I told you I’m not an expert, and this list is far from exhaustive, and feel free to disagree with me, but I hope this is good place to begin utilizing our freedoms for the common good.
1. Weep with those who have a vastly different American experience than you.
Not everyone feels deep American pride when they see an American flag. America is a difficult place to live for some of our own citizens. The American experience isn’t congruent in every corner of our land. While I will never worry if my son is one day pulled over by a police officer, other fathers say goodbye to their sons with far different expectations. The killing of Philando Castile and the horridly botched trial of the police officer who killed him, is the latest in a long history of examples of systemic prejudice, racism, and injustice levied against the Black community. Instead of arguing over minor details, try to understand and empathize with a grieving people. Your American experience isn’t everyone’s American experience. As we celebrate, we will better steward our freedoms by listening to those who don’t feel as free.
2. Work to use your wealth, privilege, status, and success for the sake of the hurting and hopeless among us and beyond.
If American freedom has been nothing but a gift to you, then work to extend that gift to others. Whether it is those in our own country who, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to take advantage of American freedom, or those who are trying to come to our country to flee oppression, Christians should be the first to deny self and sacrificially love neighbor as self. We should speak freely about the hope of the gospel, but we should also work out the implications of the gospel in our neighborhoods, counties, and cities. The gospel is enough motivation for us to love and show mercy to the oppressed and helpless around us. But our American freedom give us the position to do creative and constructive work to advance human flourishing.
As you celebrate today, shoot off fireworks, grill hot dogs, play in the pool, enjoy a cold beer, and sing along with Lee Greenwood until your lungs give out. But don’t let your celebrating be an end. Celebrate your American freedom by stewarding it for the good of all people and the sake of Christ’s name.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.