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Celebrating “Independence Day” as an Anabaptist

Is it biblical for Christians to declare “we the people” — when that declaration separates us from the nation-transcending Kingdom of God?

As an American Anabaptist, I’ve always experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance when it comes to celebrating “Independence Day” every July 4th.

On the one hand, I’m grateful for the freedoms implicit in being an American citizen. I’m grateful for the freedom to worship freely, to speak freely, and to assemble freely, among others. I’m grateful to call home a country that in its theory and its foundational documents (if not always in practice) actively welcomes diversity and warmly celebrates the unique contributions of people from different races, ethnicities, genders, and ages. In many ways, I love being an American.

On the other hand, I find plenty about the “American way of life” undeserving of celebration: our legacy of violent war and oppression, slavery, racism, sexism, political discord. More fundamentally, I find myself resistant to celebrating July 4th because, as a Christian, I recognize that my true freedom lies not in a Declaration of Independence, a Bill of Rights, or a Constitution — but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And I acknowledge that although I love being an American, my true loyalty rests not with a national creed or in a political party, but with the Kingdom of God, whose citizens transcend national boundaries, political affiliations, or racial and ethnic categorization and find their unity in Christ alone.

It’s why I keep putting “Independence Day” in quotation marks: if we’re honest about our Christian convictions and true to the biblical witness, isn’t every day “independence day”? Doesn’t every day we’re alive afford us opportunity to celebrate and express gratitude for the tremendous free gift of grace made possible through Christ Jesus — the grace that liberates us from our bondage to sin and that frees us to join in God’s incredible work of redeeming and restoring all creation?

For all these reasons and more, I find the words of my friend and fellow Brethren in Christ Kurt Willems incredibly comforting. In a post at his popular The Pangea Blog, Kurt offers some thoughtful reflections on why American Christians should not celebrate July 4th — at least not in the way we’ve been taught to do.

Here’s a taste of Kurt’s piece:

For the past several years I have publicly discussed why I tend to avoid associating myself with Independence Day. For a few years in a row I posted what was called my “annual unpopular post.” It all began in 2009 (when I hardly blogged), with a post titled: An “unpopular” 4th of July Post… Why this is Not a Day to Celebrate [later re-blogged and nuanced the following year: here].

As you can imagine, the reaction to such a stance in a country like ours has been diverse. Numerous times I’ve been told things like: “If you don’t like America, then why don’t you move out of the country or something!?”

In these instances, it becomes even more clear how much the story of Christianity has been prostituted to the story of Empire. That may come across as harsh, but I honestly do not intend to be harsh. And in all honesty, controversy is not my favorite pasttime, as I don’t love conflict. I am saddened that I’ve lost friends over this conviction. Yet, the more I read the Scriptures and get to know the Christ of the Scriptures, the more I’m compelled to speak the truth in love.

At the same time, I think there is much about this country to celebrate. For instance, I think American culture is something to take pride in. We have a unique bond as Americans. I love American people! I love living in America – in case that isn’t clear. But, I love something even more–or should I say, I love Someone even more. The way of Jesus invites us to name the good in culture while simultaneously living countercultural lives. So, on this Fourth of July, I want to celebrate the good and wear kingdom “lenses” at the same time.

Kurt goes on to offer eight tips on celebrating “Independence Day” while wearing “kingdom lenses.”

Read the full post here.

Readers: Share your thoughts on these reflections below. Do you struggle to reconcile your Christian convictions with the call of American nationalism? How do you celebrate July 4th?

11 responses to “Celebrating “Independence Day” as an Anabaptist

  1. Crazy! I literally just said to Greg, “It used to be a lot easier to celebrate the 4th of July when I wasn’t a pacifist!” Going to read Kurt’s 8 ways right now.

  2. I have always been discomfited by the convergence of religion and nationalism that so many Americans exhibit. For some, being a Christian is equivalent to being an American and vice versa.
    That convergence leads to many problematic behaviors in Americans–including the challenge you received of “why don’t you go somewhere else.”

  3. If I wasn’t a Christian I’d probably think that being an American is the best thing that I’ve got going. Before America, Jesus is. After America, Jesus will be. Also I believe American freedom would be even better if so many Americans weren’t in prisons. Lastly, I really do enjoy fireworks.

    1. Thanks, Harriet! If you don’t mind, I’m going to link to this post in a follow-up blog entry I have on tap for tomorrow.

  4. Thanks, everyone! I’m glad this post resonates with so many of my readers.

  5. This post resonates with me and my husband, also. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

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