How to “Be the church you wish to see in the world” this week:
While the U.S. celebrates independence from foreign oppression, consider that not all people in the U.S. are free, even now. Don’t go around waving your flag thinking that the work is behind us. Don’t assume that there is liberty and justice for all, because there is not. Take this week as an opportunity to address one of the many aspects of justice that the church can speak boldly about — from the pulpit and with your hands and feet.
— Slavery is still an inextricable part of U.S. success and basic culture. Most people are becoming aware of sex trafficking and sex slavery — which is a huge problem. What most people still don’t consider is that the clothes they wear were likely made my child slaves in factories in China or Indonesia. The fruit and vegetables that you eat are often picked by exploited immigrant labor who are paid far less than minimum wage and work in deplorable toxic conditions. Coffee, bananas, and all sorts of other staples are raised by farmers in other countries where U.S. corporations force tenant farmers to live in utter poverty and hunger while raising foods for our tables. Your liberty and relative wealth are enjoyed on the backs of these people everyday. They are created human too.
— We live in a country where our greatest symbol of freedom is the statue of liberty. Engraved on that statue are the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Yet, our politicians actively block legislation year after year that would make our country more welcome to the immigrant. We treat immigrants who migrate legally with contempt and often create obstacles that ruin lives, divide families, and immiserate people who want to be a part of the society. We so grossly limit and complicate the legal immigration system that desperate people often have no hope of following the rules. We create a high demand for immigrant labor in the U.S. yet do not create sufficient visas to meet that demand. We demonize immigrants from some places (Mexico, for example) and build walls to keep them out while simultaneously favoring other countries and peoples — often because of their wealth or the color of their skin. We lord our land and wealth over the heads of “foreigners” simply because we were privileged enough to be born in the “right” part of the world — yet that is nothing we have earned. Our nationalism and pride becomes a weapon against other created humans. In the kingdom of God there are no borders — man/woman, slave/free, religious/irreligious.
— Soldiers fight wars and then come back scarred by that experience. Many find themselves suffering from varying degrees of PTSD and certainly celebrations involving fireworks doesn’t always help. The answer may not come in banning all celebrations or fireworks, but certainly the church has tangible ways to be neighbors to these soldiers and their families. Do you have a church member that has property way out in the “sticks”? Maybe plan a weekend retreat there — including ample funding and a ban on fireworks. Celebrate with picnics, camping, or other activities. Depending on your geography, consider hosting a retreat in another country, such as Canada or Mexico, where the loud celebrations don’t happen on the same days as the U.S. holidays.
— Consider that a fervent long-term commitment to peacemaking, nonviolence, diplomacy and relationship are the ways that we can solve problems of international violence and war. People are not “free” when the U.S. is bombing them. If we desire freedom and justice for all, it must be for all humanity, not just for all those lucky enough to be born citizens of the U.S. Independence Day is not about glorifying war. It is about celebrating the values and philosophies that made the founding of the U.S. a wonderful happening.
— We also should not forget that at the very time the “founding” words were penned, people were still enslaved, women and people of color were not “people”, and the spread of “civilization” meant murdering and stealing the land of indigenous people. We’ve come so far, yet we still have so many injustices to face and so many past crimes to reconcile. That work will not get done on its own. Go be the church.