“Let Freedom Ring” These words echo through the history of our nation. From the opening verse of that old anthem, “My Country Tis of Thee”, to the powerful conclusion of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, this refrain carries on through the heart of America.
Today we celebrate the Fourth of July. On this day, called Independence Day, we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of this nation in 1776. This year many also learned about another holiday, Juneteenth. Sometimes called Freedom Day, this was the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in the United States were emancipated.
Today I would like to reflect on two quintessentially American ideals: independence and freedom. In the midst of a pandemic that has shrunk the spheres of our daily lives, in the aftermath of a nation that watched a man killed in the street and rose up in response, in the fear and uncertainty that lingers in our daily lives, what do these words mean? What is independence? What is freedom?
To The Roots
These words are often seen as synonymous, and used almost interchangeably. However, a look at their etymological roots reveals a different story.
The word “freedom” has a lengthy history, stretching back a few thousand years before the birth of Christ. Freedom finds its roots in the Proto-Indo-European term meaning “beloved”. The movement from this root towards the modern usage is believed to have come from its use to distinguish the free members of a clan (friends and family) from those who were held in slavery (Wiktionary).
In contrast, the word independence is relatively young. It precedes the birth of the United States of America by only a century or so. The term came to the English language by way of the French in the 17th century and means simply “freedom from dependence; exemption from reliance on, or control by others” (Wiktionary).
Already we begin to see the distinction between these two words. The sense of familial belonging associated with “freedom” stands in sharp contrast with the isolation from outside influence “independence” connotes.
In his work in the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often about the establishment of the “Beloved Community.” Speaking about this work in 1956 he wrote, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends […] It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” (The King Philosophy)
What is freedom? It is to live the truth that we are all members of the family of God, beloved sons and daughters of the one Father. Mother Teresa once said, “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other-that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister.” Freedom is to remember that we belong to one another.
Let Scripture Speak
The Bible does not say, “For independence, Jesus made us independent”, but rather “For freedom Christ set us free” (Gal. 5:1)
Indeed the scriptures speak often of freedom. A cursory web search reveals over 200 instances of the word “free” and another 89 instances of the word “beloved” in the New American Bible. By way of contrast “independent” appears once and the related concept of “liberty” only 7 times. So what is it that the scriptures have to tell us about freedom?
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:18-21)
The glorious freedom of the children of God. Bold words. Do we as people of faith live this glorious freedom won for us by Christ? Or do we cling to our independence, and prize our liberties above brothers and sisters in Christ?
Lift Every Voice
As we celebrate today, perhaps gathering together with family and friends, let us also be united as one in the family of God. Let us journey together the difficult road towards that truly Christian gift of freedom. May we seek to know one another more deeply as brothers and sisters, a beloved community, living the truth that we belong to one another.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”
So we cry out, Father, heal our world, heal our nation, heal our church, heal our families, heal our hearts.
Copyright 2020 Mary Conway