While driving on I-15 in Southern California last year, I had luckily chosen the second lane from the left.
It was both startling and a bit surreal when a car at a high speed passed me in the lane to my left — coming toward me.
Looking in the rearview mirror, I prayed there would be no head-on collision behind me — which would likely have been deadly. I’ve wondered how things ended for the wrong-way driver and those innocently in the way.
When it comes to the freedom that we celebrate tomorrow, it is wise to consider the direction we are going.
Humility and honesty require us to recognize the many imperfections in our pursuit of it as a nation. We have achieved and at times failed to live up to our national ideals.
Those who bear the name Christian have played — and continue to play — significant roles in both the advancement and the restriction of freedom.
It seems rather clear, however, that the latter group now has its foot on the accelerator. And we are heading for a crash if not stopped or redirected.
While white Americanized Christians may not have their hands solely on the steering wheel, they are often eager pit crew members who enable such misdirection.
Make no mistake: fear is the fuel of selective and restrictive freedom imposed on those considered lesser or “other.”
Religious and political leaders aplenty seek to replace freedom with loyalty to them and their self-serving, restrictive ideologies. They pump out the unfounded fears that so many white evangelicals lap up with ease.
My attempt today is not to pour doom and gloom on a holiday that deserves gratitude and celebration. However, that is best done alongside an honest reckoning of freedom’s fragility.
The sad reality is that so often those who fight for and then experience freedom more fully will, in turn, seek to restrict it for others. Such has become a mark of Americanized evangelical power today.
Recently, my colleague Bruce Gourley and I spent time digging into the history of colonial life — especially as it relates to religious and overall personal liberty.
Romanticized stories of those who came to these shores in search of freedom don’t match reality.
Richard Pickering of Plimoth Patuxet Museums in Massachusetts has long studied and taught about the Pilgrims and the colony they established.
“Essentially, they [Pilgrims] came here for their own religious liberty,” he told us. “They didn’t come for others.”
To varying degrees, religiously motivated control and persecution were prominent in the formative years of a new nation.
In fact, it is rather remarkable that the freedom we mark, enjoy and celebrate this week won out in the American experience. It did so at a high cost to those who stood up to the power structures of their time.
It was not a given that America would move in that direction — and it is not a given now that we will continue on that course.
There are reasons to be concerned about how poorly and often contrastingly we Americans are handling the fragile freedom gifted to us by those who thought and fought for this grand inheritance of ours.
Liberty in the broader and very important sense has to do with the shared rights to choose what one believes, says and does without infringing on those same freedoms for others. Sometimes it gets tricky, but communal liberty calls for shared freedom and efforts to advance a common good.
When learning, or learning again, about how sacrificially some gave their lives for us to live in such freedom (though it has needed to evolve through the centuries), it is shocking how easily some choose to trade freedom for a sense of security.
Today, many Americans, particularly those who profess to be Christian, seem bent on voluntarily giving up freedom to authoritarian control. That is not what those who pursued our freedom had in mind.
Time passes and we forget. We construct our own versions of so-called reality — or fall for the ones created by those who seek to control our thinking and allegiance.
With a large dose of grievance, many among us echo the overstated alarms that lead to a willingness to give up freedom in exchange for the perceived comfort of authoritarianism.
Those who moved in the opposite direction — from authoritarianism to independence — would surely be distressed to see what has been done with their sacrifices for freedom.
In one sense, history is linear — it proceeds year after year, decade after decade. Yet, those who live out those enumerable times don’t necessarily progress.
For followers of Jesus, freedom should mean something far greater than fighting for “my rights” at the expense of others. It should be about freeing everyone in pursuit of a common good in which being different is not considered being wrong.
Let freedom ring.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.