Yesterday I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between The World And Me. It’s a letter from a black father to his son, reflecting on his experience of discrimination, racism and the broken narrative Americans live with, where wealthy white men have pursued the American Dream at the expense of people whose skin color was different from theirs. (They also pursued it at the expense of people whose gender was different from theirs — but that’s a post for a different time.)
The men who colonized North America invoked God’s name and therefore, it supposedly followed, God’s blessing, as they lied to, pillaged and poisoned Native Americans.
As they bought, sold, whipped, raped and humiliated Africans who they consigned into slavery.
As they wrote that, “All men are created equal,” but conveniently excluded people of other skin colors from the definition of “all men.”
As they hired scientists to publish reports saying that Africans were closer to animals than human beings. As they used euphemisms like Noble Savages, White Saviors and Manifest Destiny to justify their horrific behavior.
As they preached the inherent right to pursue liberty and freedom, while denying that right to others.
Today, as America celebrates Independence Day, I’ve been thinking about what Americans — especially American Christians — are supposed to do with the freedom we have.
This week, in addition to reading Between The World And Me, I also read Galatians 5 in several different translations. Most of the chapter is devoted to what it means that Jesus has set us free, and what we’re supposed to do with our new-found freedom.
To put it simply, we are to use our freedom to set others free.
If freedom is worth celebrating, setting off fireworks, closing down government offices and declaring a national holiday for, if freedom is worth soldiers laying down their lives for, if freedom really is an ideal that we cherish and revel in, then it follows that we would want to help others experience that very same thing.
And it’s not only political freedom that we should be advocating for. It’s also the freedom for people of all faiths to practice their religion without without discrimination or persecution. It’s the freedom for children to play in a city park without being afraid that they’re going to be kidnapped or shot. It’s the freedom for couples to express love to a partner without being picketed or demeaned or mocked. It’s the freedom for students to go to school without being afraid that they’ll be bullied. It’s the freedom for women to pursue their profession without having to fight for equal opportunity and equal pay. It’s the freedom for people with mental health issues to have access to the help they need to get well.
It’s the freedom for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan to walk to school without having acid splashed in their face. It’s the freedom for people in rural Africa to drink clean water whenever they’re thirsty. It’s the freedom for workers in China and Bangladesh to work reasonable hours for fair wages. It’s the freedom for children in the developing world to get the food and water and vaccines and medicine they need to survive their childhood.
If we use our freedom to wield power over other genders, skin colors or countries, we are missing the point.
If we use our freedom to indulge our greed or make ourselves dangerously comfortable or accumulate wealth at the expense of others, we are squandering it.
If we think that we can stop advocating for freedom as soon as we’re free, ignoring people who are still living in captivity, then we don’t really value freedom as much as we say we do.
Today, let’s think about what it means to use our freedom to set others free.
And let’s remember, as we walk forward into the rest of this day, this week, this month, this year….that no one is truly free until all of us are free.