Set aside for a second when the Declaration was first drafted (2 July), when it was signed (August, I believe) or when it was finalized (reportedly as late as November). None of these have anything to do with the question in the title. The question is about the word independence, but not whether the United States really became independent that day, or with the Declaration at all. My bigger issue is the fact that we are expected to celebrate an independence that certainly wasn’t for everyone.
Set aside for now the fact that true freedom from the tyranny of all governments can only come from abandoning them for the Kingdom of God (see previous posts about the Kingdom vs. nationalism). My issue is that even if you believe that the independence that eventually came to these United States was important and just*, the independence won in the war didn’t even apply to most of the people who lived in the United States at that time.
To begin, if you were a Native American, sorry. Yeah, really, you were here first, and the colonists for the most part swindled you out of your land, killed you for it, or just waited for you to move on and squatted on your land. After all, the King of England (or some other country) had given them the rights to your land. (No one seems to have been greatly concerned that it wasn’t theirs to give.) This new independence didn’t really pertain to you. You were “free” to keep moving west until we wanted that land as well. Congrats, you can vote now, but we’ve done so much damage to your ways of life and your heritage as a people that you are unlikely to ever recover without a miracle, which I pray God grants you.
Moving on, if you were a slave, this independence really didn’t help you either. Maybe it helped your owner, but I doubt you would have noticed a difference. You were property, and made his way of life economically profitable. Thanks, but it would be almost one hundred years before another war would be fought over whether states had the right to decide whether it was legal to own other people. Even after that, we Americans were pretty reluctant to give you votes, and actually act like “all men are created equal” applied to men with colored skin. This hits close to home for me. Two of my children are bi-racial with an African-American father. I doubt either of them would have benefited from the independence of our country.
While we’re talking about my kids, my girls, white or mixed, wouldn’t have been helped much either. Sure, all white men are created equal, but women? Well, not really. Sure, a white woman’s way of life might have been affected by the war and its results, but mostly through their husband. If your husband supported the English, good luck! Did he die in the war? Hope you remarried well and thanks for his sacrifice, but I’m pretty sure life would have gotten much, much harder. If your husband survived and returned healthy, he might have benefited from the result which would make your life a bit better, perhaps. All in all, though, the lot of the women predominantly fell with how the men fared. They were no “freer” after the war than before in any real sense unless they indirectly benefitted.
What about white men? At least all of them benefitted, right? Well, those who owned land, perhaps. They now had a say in the government, but I suspect that many of the poor who rented land or worked for others still found life hard and saw little real benefit from the new government established on a democracy that favored those who could read, write, and vote. Instead of being ruled by a relatively benign government they rarely saw and governors in their state, they were now ruled by a government elected from among their own neighbors, but generally the ones with land and assets, and the most interest in protecting people like themselves, rather than the poor renters or laborers.
All in all, I think it is fair to say that the Declaration of Independence really brought little freedom of any sort to the vast majority of the people. Even today, many people are lacking any real sense of freedom. Many work in jobs they can only justify because of the paycheck. The work itself is not rewarding or interesting to them. Many of us find ourselves in mountains of debt wondering if we’ll be able to make it to the next paycheck without sacrificing the lifestyle we are accustomed to. Minorities of all types face discrimination and racism every day, while many of us in the white majority don’t even see how the system is rigged against their success. (Having biracial kids has been a real eye opener for me, and made me more aware of my own advantages.) Women still fight for the same opportunities as men. This is sadly true as much in churches as anywhere else. Immigrants, legal and illegal, often find challenges from those of us who easily forget that all but the Native Americans had ancestors who once were immigrants here. There are real issues here, I understand, but do we approach these issues as those whose families once chose to come here for one reason or another?
In short, it is easy to celebrate as if we all have experienced this same “independence”, but the reality is that only in Christ is there true freedom, and only in His Kingdom are we empowered to live the truth that all of mankind is really created equal, as Paul states that in Christ there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. These are no longer the qualifiers for admission to the Kingdom. All of the socio-economic, racial and ethnic, and gender differences don’t help you to get into the Kingdom. In fact, those differences add to the beauty of the Kingdom.
This week I am reminded and saddened by a celebration that seems to me to pretend that something had been accomplished. The truth is that only in the Kingdom will the ideal be worked out. Perhaps it is time to live out our prayer that God’s Kingdom would come (from the poorly named The Lord’s Prayer), and start to do our part to bring about that Kingdom, first in our own churches, and then in the world around us as we live our lives. It seems to me that the Kingdom can and should be made real here! Let’s get started, shall we?
*Don’t get me started, but I honestly don’t see any reasonable way to argue that the American Revolution could be justified even if I believed in Just War Theory.