Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to “My Country ’Tis of Thee” in 1831 and it is still a staple of our nations patriotic songs. It was first performed in public at a Fourth of July celebration commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. I am certain it will be played and sung with gusto again this year…Let freedom ring!
Does freedom ring?
It has been 240 years since the Declaration of Independence was penned by Thomas Jefferson with the help of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. Every year we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, parades, and barbecues. There are ceremonies and political speeches that lift up our nation as the land of the free. This year, these celebrations will be held in the shadow of the worst mass shooting our country has seen. There is an epidemic of deaths related to gun violence effecting all Americans. If we are not safe in night clubs, movie theaters, schools, or churches how free are we?
The Declaration of Independence declares: “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.” When I read this I envision a nation where every human being regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious view, age, or personal choice is allowed and encouraged to live fully and free. That sounds like the kingdom of God that Christ encourages us to build.
However, statistics show that every day, on average: 31 Americans are murdered, 55 people kill themselves with a fire arm, emergency rooms treat 151 gunshot victims, and 46 people are shot or killed by accident. What breaks my heart is the number of children and young people this epidemic effects, on average seven are killed by guns every day. All this senseless violence costs U.S. tax players billions of dollars each year. You can read these and more statistics on the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence website bradycampaign.org. These numbers do not reflect a nation where everyone is participating in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, nor do they describe the kingdom of God on earth. Something must be done so that freedom may ring.
I think it is obvious, if there were no guns there would be no gun related deaths. While this would be ideal, it is not a realistic solution. One of our basic freedoms is the 2nd Amendment and our right to bare arms. How then are Christian Americans going respect and protect both the freedom afforded in the 2nd Amendment, and the freedoms of Life, Liberty, and Happiness? With prayer and a call for justice. While we long and pray for a day that violence and hate are no more, we must encourage our nations leaders to seek common sense and realistic measures that will protect all within our boarders from the many forms of gun violence. We need reforms that address the issues of poverty, education, and mental health, especially for our nations children. You can learn more ways to help call for justice at childrensdefense.org. Until we reach a place were freedom rings for all people we continue to pray that God’s presence is felt in the lives of victims and their families. We pray that God might stay the hands and calm the hearts of those who would choose violence as a solution to their struggles. We pray that the light of Christ would illuminate the conversation between the deeply divided sides of the issue until some much needed change occurs.
Samuel Francis Smith was a seminary student at Andover Theological Seminary when he wrote “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and the final verse seems fitting as our conflicted nation celebrates the Fourth of July this year:
“Our fathers' God to Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing. Long may our land be bright, With freedom's holy light, Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King.”
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
Rev. Andrew Black