Warning: what follows is a post in the vein of the Old Testament prophets. You may want to skip it and for that I do not blame you, but I feel compelled to write it.
I have heard our love of country compared to our love of our parents. When we are children, we love our parents as only children can. We love them without being aware of their flaws and shortcomings.* As adults, we recognize that our parents are fallen human beings, and yet we love them still. (This is Christ-like in that it is also the nature of God’s love for us.) I believe that the love we have for our country should be like the love of an adult child for his or her parents. This means that we have to acknowledge that our country, however much we love it, is not perfect.
To that end, I want to share two links. The first is a historic address by Frederick Douglas titled The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. The following passage is considered one of Douglas’ most moving:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
The second is a contemporary blog post by a Native American titled The Dilemma of the Fourth of July. It’s author, Mark Charles, highlights the reference to Native Americans as savages in The Declaration of Independence and then writes:
“This is the dilemma that Native ‘Americans’ face every day. The foundations of the United States of America are blatantly unjust. This land was stolen. Native peoples, Africans and many other minority communities have long been recipients of systemic racism. And the roots of it are right there for the entire world to see, printed in many of our founding documents; like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and United States Supreme Court case rulings.”
My hope is that by confessing the sins of our nation’s past, we might move forward to a better, holier future.** Like the hymn America the Beautiful, I want to extol our nation’s virtues and ask God to “mend [our] every flaw.” Mark Charles feels the same way, writing:
“You can still light your fireworks and eat your BBQ, but please remember God’s incredible mercy upon our violent and unjust nation. And at the end of the day, I humbly ask you to conclude your celebrations with the following prayer.
‘May God have mercy on the United States of America and give us the courage necessary to create a common memory.'”
I understand “common memory” to mean an accurate understanding of our past that is shared by enough people that it helps to shape a more just future. I will pray that prayer.
*My apologies to my own parents for the use of this comparison. I should note that my mother has very few shortcomings, and I share all my father’s flaws.
**Credit where credit is due: In 2009 Sam Brownback helped lead a successful effort to get a formal apology to Native Americans approved by Congress and signed by the President. Sadly, he could not get it passed as a stand-alone bill and it had to be slipped into an appropriations measure.