Last Monday evening, I raced off from placid Pinecrest, with kayaks still in the water and kids still wading along the lake’s sandy shore at 5,000 feet.
It wasn’t that I had big commitments in the city. Rather, like any patriot, I wanted to see the fireworks. Stockton’s major waterfront Fourth-of-July display would be starting sometime after dark. Why fireworks are such a big deal I don’t really know. They’re a short-lived, expensive orgy of bright lights and colors that explode, then disappear completely. The whole show burns out in less than twenty minutes. Besides, I’d been back East on the Washington Mall last Fourth of July. My back to the Lincoln Memorial, my feet in the Reflecting Pool, I joined people packed in from every nation under the sun for the annual spectacle of lights in our nation’s own Capital.
So why abandon the mountains for Stockton’s much humbler celebration?
On the walkway along Weber Street, hanging off the rail or parked on the grass or seated by the sidewalk, hundreds of waiting spectators stationed themselves in anticipation of the night’s big attraction. Looking at them all, so close to the church I serve, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that such a wide variety of human beings were peacefully assembled for one purpose.
So maybe this wasn’t D.C., and maybe not everyone watching out over the water toward Weber Park is out to make America great, but what the heck.
We all had something in common to celebrate. With all its challenges and its contradictions, this country is still the magnet of the world. Despite the deportations and the exportation of things we ought to bury at home, we of the United States are still the envy of the nations. So it didn’t bother me at all that the fireworks started nearly at 9:30. I was thankful to have made it.
But when the program got underway, something was missing. Between the blasting, the booming, the crackling, the sizzling and the whistling - echoed by the wowing of the children - was complete silence. The noisier the pyro-technics got, the louder was the quiet of the patriotic music that didn’t play.
At first disappointed, I wondered whether the sound system had failed. Or maybe the organizers had decided that the traditional tunes might not be as appealing to people from other countries than they are to American citizens and those who are choosing to make this country their permanent homeland.
Maybe we were supposed to have tuned our radios to a particular station -- or, judging from the rap a boat had been broadcasting, to play whatever.
Whatever the reason, the lack of music was as remarkable as the fireworks.
I couldn’t image having joined the almost-million witnesses watching the last lift-off of Atlantis, our beloved Shuttle, without thinking of patriotic songs and the symphony of so many American dreams fulfilled in space.
I couldn’t fathom yesterday’s jubilation in South Sudan, having gained its independence after twenty-two years of civil war and the loss of two million lives, without reference to the undying values which drove their sacrifice.
So Stockton’s song-free display on July Fourth left me wondering whether those who packed the park really shared the values which have made our nation so great. The lack of a patriotic soundtrack drove home more than ever the painful reality that we, as a nation, seem to have forgotten - or worse still, systematically denied - the faith-based convictions and governing principals which made the establishment of our nation even possible.
As we move on from the Declaration of Independence’s 235th anniversary, it’s time once and for all to leave on the ash-heap of history the oft-repeated myth that our Founding Fathers envisioned a government independent of, and separated from, the foundation and intervention of their Christian faith.
In fact, just a brief glimpse at the inscriptions in Washington’s monuments and the quotations of the Declaration’s signers will debunk the deceptions being spoon-fed our children in public school for the last forty-or-so years.
The concept of a rigid “Separation of Church and State” is not to be found in the Constitution, even if both Jefferson and Madison considered the idea.
Two ancestors of mine were signers, so I feel especially hot about the topic. I visited the stone markers bearing their names on the Mall last July Fouth.
What the Constitution’s framers obtained, with the First Amendment, was the mutual protection of both government and religious institutions from mutual interference in a manner that would compromise their integrity. In the Colonies, such interference had already been evident, and the framers wanted to set a proper course for the future. By no means did they intend this mutual protection to cause the expulsion of faith from the public arena.
“When in the course of human events,” began the Declaration, “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Here, obviously, the separation was not from Christianity, but from Britain.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration continued, “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. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted…, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; - That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…” Note that the source of all human rights is God.
The Declaration concludes: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” This “sacred honor” based on a “firm reliance” speaks of religion.
In fact, the more you study, the more you realize that the Declaration and the Constitution - indeed our nation itself - are products of religious faith especially when 52 of the 55 framers of the Constitution were avowed Christians.