We were reminded last week by the Vice President of our Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, Byron Rushing (longtime African American state legislator in Massachusetts) to be careful in appropriating Christian symbols and values uncritically to our Fourth of July celebrations. For example, this prayer, often used on Independence Day, is offensive to many and not completely true anyway:
“Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace…”
Leaving aside the question of whether the “Founding Fathers” did what they did in God’s name, it is clear that they won liberty primarily for themselves and certainly not for the enslaved people they continued to “own,” Native Americans they continued to slaughter, and women who did not have the right to vote for their leaders for over a century.
Byron Rushing suggests the substitution of another prayer we often use For the Nation: “Lord God Almighty, you have made all people of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will…” This, at least, sets us into the context of all the “people of the earth” and recognizes that we have a long way in establishing “liberty and justice for all.”
I also chafe at the ease with which we often appropriate texts about the “Promised Land” in the Old Testament, clearly referring to Israel, as now somehow applying to this new “promised land” of these United States. This is clearly “eisegesis” (reading something into the text) rather than “exegesis” (extracting meaning from the text). Therefore, I was happy that our morning Reading from the Wisdom literature of the Apocrypha avoids this tendency and really gives us something to think about:
“A wise magistrate educates his people, and the rule of an intelligent person is well ordered. As the people’s judge is, so are his officials; as the ruler of the city is, so are all its inhabitants. An undisciplined king ruins his people, but a city becomes fit to live in through the understanding of its rulers. The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the right time.”
“Human success is in the hand of the Lord, and it is he who confers honor upon the lawgiver. Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury, and do not resort to acts of insolence. Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals, and injustice is outrageous to both. Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.” (Ecclesiasticus 10:1-8, 12-18)
Well, God may well “raise up the right leader for the right time.” But, in this country at least, that depends upon getting a majority of the people’s votes. And we have some pretty important choices to make this time around.
So, I will spend a few hours of this Independence Day registering new voters at the Bettendorf, Iowa July 4th Festival! Happy Fourth!