Tomorrow our nation celebrates our 246th birthday. In the history of countries that is a long time for one nation to be around. This weekend as we gather as a country to celebrate our nation’s birth, I think we need to step back and ask ourselves where are we as a country and where are we going. What makes America unique is our freedom. Yet, I dare say so many of us take that freedom for granted. If you have ever had the chance to travel the world, you begin to realize that the freedom we have here is unique; that very few people in the world experience what you experience. This gift of freedom, most importantly this gift of freedom, not only to worship here in Church, but also to live our faith in the world, is certainly what makes our country so great. If you take away our freedom though, you don’t have the United States of American any more.
I had this conversation on the flight home from the east coast this week. I had been on the East Coast giving a presentation on moral relativism and some the new issues that have come up including the Dobbs supreme court decision that had just been handed down. As the guy next to me inquired about why I was traveling and I shared this with him, he remarked that out of all the news he had heard what scared him the most was that it seems like to separation of church and state was being violated in our country. I responded that I didn’t know what he meant, after all no one was forcing him to be Catholic. No one forced me to be Methodist, Jewish or any other religion. Certainly, people have said things about how they disagree with my religion, but I still have the ability to worship and live out my faith. As I pressed him on his statement, he claimed that he thought the courts were imposing religion on him. After talking for a while, I asked him a question, “are you happy with where we are as a country?” He admitted that we have serious problems in this country so I asked him where he thought those problems came from.
As I think more and more about that question, I asked this man on the plane, I begin to think that the challenge for us as a country is that we no longer understand what freedom is and thus we cannot live on the basic ideal on which our country was founded. If someone from another country asked you, “what is this freedom that you enjoy as an American,” how would you define it? Sadly, for most Americans I dare say they would respond that freedom is the ability to do whatever you want. My friends that is not freedom, that is tyranny. If you can do whatever you want, what is to keep someone from murdering another person? What is to keep your neighbor from saying “I like the things you have so I am going to go into your house and take them for myself.” If freedom is the ability to do whatever we want then we have utter chaos in this country, and perhaps this is part of the challenges we are facing today.
Freedom is not the ability to do whatever I want. No, our country was not founded on that principle, our country was founded on a principle that our country would not get in the way of me becoming who I am called to be. You see, freedom isn’t the ability to do what we want, freedom is the ability to do what we ought to do, to become the people God has created us to be. If you were to speak with the founding fathers and if you read their documents, you realize that their understanding of freedom is very simple, that nothing should impede us from becoming who God made us to be.
So, as I think back on that conversation that I had with this man on the plane, I begin to think that the greatest problem for us in our country is that we are removing the notion of God from our country. My friends, if you don’t have God, you don’t have freedom. After all our founding fathers were very clear, we are one nation under God, that we possess certain rights which are given to us by God. If you remove God from the equation where does our right to freedom come from; from the government, from other people? If that is the case, these people or institutions can take it away from us just as easily as they can give it to us.
You see, my friends, the genius of the founding fathers is that they took a philosophical idea that had been talked about in universities and they put it into practice. A philosophical experiment that recognized that each human person is endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, primarily the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have to step back and acknowledge that you cannot have freedom in our country if you don’t have God at the center. Without God at the center the rest of what makes our country great collapses.
Over the past several months as I have watched churches attacked, lives threatened for what they believe and I have watched people cry out that there is no longer a separation between Church and state, I have come to realize that true freedom means that God has a place in our country.
Even with the challenges in our country we still live in one of the greatest civilizations to exist in the world. We should give thanks to God for that. We should honestly acknowledge how blessed we truly are, but at the same time, we must acknowledge that our freedom truly comes from God. Freedom doesn’t mean that God has not place in this country, no freedom means that God has to be at the center of this country. So, as we step back and celebrate our nations birthday, I think the first and proper step is to give thanks to God for the great blessing of freedom that you and I are afforded. I hope then that when we look at that gift of freedom, we can also acknowledge that to be free means to put God at the center. Friends, freedom does not mean that we can do whatever we want, no freedom means that we will be unimpeded in becoming who we are supposed to be. The genius of our founding fathers is that they realized that each and every one of us is created by God Himself and that there should be nothing in the way of becoming who God intends us to be. There should be nothing put in the way of us becoming saints.