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.
The Declaration of Independence is truly one of the most amazing documents ever penned by humankind. To think that 56 men from 13 colonies with all the differences between them could come together and agree to sign their names to a statement that could have most likely resulted in all of them being executed for treason by the British Crown is almost unthinkable in our day.
The words they published are so commonplace now, we forget how much they truly pushed the historic envelope of human dealings and in fact, how much they still do. The defining paradigm of culture prior to 1776 was the divine right of kings. Those who had by money and power vanquished more helpless people divided the world into haves and have-nots—royalty and serfs. Your station in life was mostly determined by birth.
The idea that all of us are created equal on the planet was virtually unknown, and certainly not even believed by the men who signed that Declaration. By “all men”, they only meant those who were white, Anglo-Saxon, male, Protestant landowners. Even in ensuing decades they never considered their ideals to the native Americans they lied to and pillaged, the slaves many of them owned and exploited, or the women they claimed to love.
Yet, our understanding of all of us being created equal in the eyes of God is a close to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the way he treated people as any other summary statement. He offered to everyone without reservation the same love and light be they exposed sinner, Pharisee, king or Roman governor. This gospel was for every person, with no distinction, no favoritism, no lording over another human being. And that reality is still finding its way into human culture even at the beginning of the 21st Century.
At least in government the divine right of royalty is succumbing to the forces of freedom almost all over the world. Except for some figurehead monarchies in Europe and some Middle Eastern and South American dictators, the notion that some people are born to privilege and leadership has largely been discredited in the world. Interestingly enough the only place the royalty/serf distinction still carries any weight is in the clergy/laity disparity in our religious institutions. And in some older (and newer) incarnations the clergy even have the audacity to dress and act like royalty. How sad is that?
Isn’t it interesting that in most significant cultural shifts recognizing the equality of people, the impetus has rarely come from those who most claim to understand Jesus’ message or his example? It shows how little they do. Freedom is an easy term to throw around conceptually, but its real power doesn’t describe a governmental form, but a understanding of people that invites us to treat them differently. Every human being merits the same respect and opportunity as any other. When we lose sight of that, we can excuse our calloused and cold lives toward the needs of others.
So, actually July 4 is one of my favorite holidays not so much for the country it began, but for the revolution of thought it represented. For the first time in human history statesmen recognized what Jesus said in Matthew 23. “You have one Father and you all brothers and sisters.” That’s the way to live. That’s how Jesus shapes us in his reality. It is true of everyone around you. No one deserves to lord over another, and no one deserves to suffer at the hands of those more powerful.
And that is not yet true, even in America. There are a class of Americans—government leaders, the rich, and celebrities in the arts—who consider themselves above the rest of us and above the rules of respect that govern a free society. It has never been more evident than the last few decades where people of privilege and power reassert their control over the culture. How many powerful politicians have been exposed as moral frauds? How quickly did our Congress and presidents crawl into bed with the fortune hunters on Wall Street who were willing to secure their fortunes by looting the trust of common folks.
The economic disaster we’re in was not the result of an economic downturn. It was completely manufactured by dishonest men and women who thought they could benefit at their fellow-citizens’ expense. Our government has done anything to restrain that and simply threw more money at them and loot our grandchildren’s futures as well. This is not freedom. It is the tyranny of the wealthy over the powerless who have no lobby in Washington, no ability to buy the influence they they think they deserve. And instead of calling them on the carpet for betraying the public trust, most people only look to find their ladder to power and influence as well, willing to walk over anyone to get their piece of the pie.
When I see the celebrity adulation in this country, whether it be of American Idol singers, famous authors or even in moments like the death of Michael Jackson, I realize that we still have our own version of royalty in America. No, it’s not the divine right of kings, but the idolatry of fame. When I saw people enraptured in the presence of someone they think famous as they seek to live vicariously through the life of another, it only affirms how sick our culture is. To think someone is a better human being because they sing well, play sports well, or write well flies in the face of the Gospel itself. We have royalty now because we create it ourselves an ungodly heritage of a media and culture fascinated by fame and seeking it themselves, instead of dismantling its illusion at every opportunity.
All men and women are created equal. The words roll of the tongue with ease, but the reality is much more difficult to embrace. We are all the same in Father’s eyes and everyone who crosses our path on a given day is as significant as the next. Each has a story to tell, a life to share, and a hope to encourage.
Lose sight of that and you’ve lost sight of the most blessed truth of the American revolution.