The Declaration

Washington's Tomb

Washington’s Tomb

I have roamed the hallowed grounds of Mount Vernon, the home, gardens, fields and enterprises of George Washington that tell the story of a great American. His story is our story, how we became a nation. He did not compose our Declaration of Independence, but became the force behind it.

It was 239 years ago that brave Americans finally had enough of tyranny, so they drafted and signed a document for the ages. It was a declaration that placed their lives and fortunes in jeopardy. They did so with determination, and with reliance on Almighty God.

It only took three weeks to draft, revise and adopt it, but the ideas expressed were developed over years and couched in deep conviction. The context of the American grievance was a specific understanding about freedom under God, and such language found its way into the famous text.

They believed it was time for a nation to assume “the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” They were men “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” who appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the World” to vindicate their honorable intentions. “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of the divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Consider those phrases. The Founders believed freedom is inherent in creation, not granted by government. They relied on a Creator God who was involved in the affairs of men and nations. Believing that God is necessary to sustain good government, George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

The Patriots wanted the world to know their intentions were not of greed, power, or war-mongering. They simply wanted freedom. They understood that God is capable of peering into the human heart. May God give America leaders today that have selfless, patriotic intentions, and are courageous enough to worship the Creator rather than creation.

The name ‘Providence’ describes a God who guides human history to the purpose he intends, and was Washington’s oft-used name for God. He and his fellow statesmen believed that God’s hand was guiding their struggle for independence and freedom. Some pivotal events of the Revolutionary War were so improbable that it’s no wonder Washington favored this name.

Should not a nation founded with such ideas of God be guided by them as well? Does not the yearning for freedom still drive Americans to resist tyranny from without (murderous terrorists) or from within (misappropriated taxes, burdensome regulations, legalized immorality)? Should not our Constitution is be used to preserve religious freedom rather than restrict it?

Though Washington did not sign the Declaration, he does have his own lasting declaration. The family tomb at Mount Vernon is a quiet place to reflect while standing mere feet from the greatest American in history. There the family engraved these words of Jesus as Washington’s declaration to those who visit: “I am the resurrection, and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” That is real freedom!

Finding Freedom

Angola Prison

 In his recent book, Why Suffering, Ravi Zacharias recounts a conversation with an inmate in the infamous Angola Prison in Louisiana: “I asked him, ‘How do you handle the prospect that you will never get out of here, and that this is where your life will now be spent?’ He answered, ‘You know sir, if you knew the kind of person I was before I came here, and what I have now become because of the freedom Jesus Christ has brought to my soul, I can only say that if this is what it took to bring me to my senses, I am happy to spend the rest of my life here.’ Then he paused and said, ‘Please pray for my parents. They think they are free, but they are in a prison of their own darkness without God.’ That evening it was all I could do to fight back the tears as I watched this same man leading more than 700 prisoners in worship.” 

 There is a man changed by freedom, though in prison for life! Christians believe that Christ sets us free, which implies that we are in a kind of bondage. It’s usually offensive to suggest something’s wrong when you didn’t ask, but consider me a former prisoner trying to show others the way out. 

 Look, life is not supposed to be like this. Temporary love, broken trust, and subjective truth are too common. Children are at risk, addicts choose wrongly, and money is loved. The big Ten are just suggestions. Our churches can be showcases for saints instead of hospitals for sinners. We do what we don’t want, and don’t do what we do want. We have conflicting passions and goals. Such is the human condition – it is bondage, and it hurts. 

 What can you do? Attend meetings, join something, set new rules, cover bad by doing good. But all that just leads to more bondage. If you’ve tried it, you know what I mean. 

 The Hebrew prophet Isaiah foretold a Savior who would release captives and set free the oppressed. Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of that message. He explained that if we continue in his word, we are his disciples. His disciples know the truth which sets us free. Free indeed, but from what? Free from the demands of the law by his gift of grace. Free from sin to live godly lives. Free from death to be eternally alive. Author T.W. Hunt says, “God’s intention is that we be free from this world’s mind-set. In doing that, God binds us to His mind-set, the mind of Christ.” 

 God accepts and forgives according to your faith, not how well you perform. By faith, he transforms your mind, and your life reflects Christ. By God’s grace, that is freedom! 

Define the Terms

On February 6, 2014, President Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast. As an evangelical Christian, I find many of his actions while in office objectionable. But in his NPB comments, he touched on several themes that I appreciate, such as specific calls for the release of Kenneth Bae and Saeed Abedini, American Christians being imprisoned for their faith in North Korea and Iran. On the other hand, some of his remarks seem misleading. I think it’s wrong to try to impart motive or unstated meaning to someone’s words or deeds, without justification. So at the risk of violating my own prohibition, I offer some reasons to consider more carefully what the President said in these three excerpts:

1) “And here we give thanks for His guidance in our own individual faith journeys. In my life, He directed my path to Chicago and my work with churches who(sic) were intent on breaking the cycle of poverty in hard-hit communities there. And I’m grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else. It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. “

Without naming him, Obama is speaking of Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a controversial figure to say the least. (Remember “God d*** America,” and “America’s chickens have come home to roost”?) Wright was described by the Chicago Sun-Times as a “close confidant” of Obama, who described Wright as “like family to me. [Wright] strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children” and was the one who “introduce[d] me to my Christian faith.” Based on his writings and sermons, Wright’s religion could well be described as anti-American, Afrocentric liberation theology. At the risk of over-simplification, if Wright said that he “embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” it seems that he would mean that since Jesus’ mission was to set his fellow black African Jews free from the historic oppression of the white race, Wright embraces that mission and hopes to save others who are oppressed by rich white people. At the very least, the Biblical concept of Jesus as God the Son who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins for all who believe in Him as Messiah or Savior, seems a stretch for Wright. So what exactly does Obama mean by these words? Might he agree with his close confidant and pastor for 20 years?

2) “Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion. And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.”

But not if you’re the Little Sisters of the Poor. This is the Catholic order struggling in court to get relief from Obama’s health insurance law that forces them to violate their closely-held religious beliefs. If they lose, their choice will be to either capitulate and violate their conscience, or cease to “strengthen America” by serving the poor. How could Obama make this and other religious freedom statements at the NPB, knowing that the Little Sisters, the Green family of Hobby Lobby, and Liberty University are all seeking relief from his administration’s violation of their previously-protected religious freedom, unless he believes that not all religion strengthens America? This encroachment on religious freedom is not to prohibit some extreme ritual. It forces Christians to act in a way they consider immoral and ungodly. So what does he mean by religious freedom?

3) “We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.”

It sounds like Obama is talking about Islamic terrorists, but did you see what he did there? He mentions “hatred” against people because of “who they love.” This is not just a veiled jab at Russia’s Putin and the flap over gays and the Olympics. Apparently, anyone who believes in the sanctity of marriage as ordered by God is part of a twisted religion. Look, there are all kinds of perversions of the human condition. Perversion of speech is lying; perversion of trust is infidelity; perverted view of life or possessions is murder or theft. Yet no one accuses folks holding to these standards of morality as having a twisted religion. When Christians help each other, and their neighbors who suffer from any perversion, it is an act of compassion, not hatred and twisted religion.

As to “conflicts along religious lines,” there are plenty of examples of Islamists killing and driving out ‘infidels’ that Obama could have cited. But do you know what recently happened in the Central African Republic? Muslims are being driven out, because the people in self defense can no longer tolerate the Islamists murdering and destroying their people and homes. Why choose this example of religious conflict, one of the few where the Muslims are on the receiving end? I’m not defending what’s happening there, I’m just asking exactly what was the message with this example?

As for the “killing of the innocent,” it’s enough to recall Mother Teresa’s words from the 1994 NPB event: “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child…Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” So, just who does Obama think are the innocent that should be protected?

I hear the President’s words, like faith, Jesus, Savior, freedom, love, innocent. At first they seem good, especially in looking for something, anything, encouraging from this White House. But on closer examination, I’m reminded of why I continue to be driven to prayer over the direction of our country. You see, the truth is found in how you define the terms.