America has the world’s greatest tradition of liberty. We are the first and oldest nation to be founded by and for the free. On July 4, we commemorate our Founding Fathers’ valiant struggle to protect and preserve our freedom. We should feel gratitude for their victory.
But freedom, once gained, is hard to maintain. Over the years, some politicians have tried to use big government to erode our hard-won political freedoms. Today, many Americans are growing up in a political environment that no longer holds sacred some of our most fundamental freedoms, like the freedom of speech or the freedom of religion. And even more alarming, it has become socially acceptable to mock and ridicule people who stand up in defense of these freedoms.
As we get together for the Fourth of July this year, I think it’s time to remember the sacred significance of American liberty. That means both restoring and promoting the celebration of our faith. Real freedom can only abound where faith perseveres.
America’s experiment in liberty started as an experiment in faith. Men and women from all over Europe came to America to practice their faith in peace. The powers and principalities of the European continent had left them little to no freedom to follow their consciences in worshipping God as they saw fit. For these early settlers, America held the promise of unprecedented religious freedom.
This story of America’s origins shows the close connection between a strong faith and a respect for freedom. Faith in Christ sets us free from the bondage of sin; in doing so, it gives us the truest experience of freedom. Once we taste the freedom that comes from Christ, we find intolerable the sin of political tyranny, government oppression, and abusive authority. When we acknowledge in our hearts that God created us for a life free from the chains of sin, we naturally want to live in a society in which we are able to dwell in His freedom!
This connection between faith and freedom is even reflected in the words of our Founding Fathers. In fact, the Founding Fathers drew their fervor in the fight for freedom from a deep wellspring of belief in God’s design.
For these men, the surest guarantee of our political freedoms was, first and foremost, a foundation of faith. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “God who gave us life gave us liberty ... And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?”
We should still heed these words today. Without an unwavering faith in the God who first made us patriots, we won’t understand how important and sacred our freedoms truly are. Not only does faith set us spiritually free, it also makes us willing and capable of defending our political freedoms.
I think that’s part of what makes last year’s attacks on religious freedom so dangerous. Under the cover provided by the coronavirus pandemic, politicians at both the state and federal levels targeted the freedom to worship by shutting down churches, and even jailing pastors. This wasn’t just an attack on our constitutional freedoms—it was also an assault on the importance of corporate worship, one of the core foundation blocks of not just Christianity, but of every faith.
All Americans, but especially Americans of faith, must wake up to the quiet threat against faith and freedom posed by our culture and, ultimately, big government. Our country was founded to be a home for people to live out the freedom intended for us by God. America has not always done freedom well for everyone, but it’s that freedom that now pushes, challenges and enables us to grow. Without faith, no country has ever maintained the freedom that we enjoy for as long as we have enjoyed it. Faith is the necessary ingredient.
Faith does more than teach us to respect our earthly freedoms; it also gives hope by reminding us that this life is not all there is. Christians aren’t called to place their hope in any political system or nation, even a nation that shares so many values with the Biblical faith. As we fight for freedom, we should never forget that our ultimate home is in Christ—the reason for our faith.
Celebrating faith on the Fourth of July may not be something a lot of us are used to. But as the U.S. begins to open up again, we face a unique set of challenges. We should not forget to recognize faith while commemorating our freedom. America was never intended to separate the two. Our forefathers recognized this, and we should too.
Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.