Across the Pastor’s Desk: The elements of today’s journey
Published 9:46 am Friday, July 1, 2016
Across the Pastor’s Desk by Todd Walsh
Todd Walsh is pastor at Thorne Crest Senior Living Community.
The Declaration of Independence has been called “American scripture.” The impressive marble shrine in Washington, D.C., that displays Thomas Jefferson’s masterful composition for all to see supports that position. And its place in the education we receive in our schools and our collective memory says it again.
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It is said that the core of the document is its second sentence. Just a few words in this long document name the very nature of the American people and spirit. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”
The first word in that sentence warrants attention: we.
Thomas Jefferson would probably admit that he pushed the truth a bit when he used the word “we” in that sentence. But then he may well have been penning his hope for the American people.
Jefferson knew half of the American people were not included: women. I wonder if he knew Abigail Adams had written to her husband, John, just a couple months before the adoption of the declaration. She wanted her husband to “remember the ladies” when declaring independence. She wanted women to have the vote. Abigail was 144 years ahead of her time. Abigail’s words still speak to us today to act in our time to continue to work for women’s rights and an equal place in society.
Jefferson knew black people were not included. His paragraph blaming the British king for slavery and the slave trade had to be dropped from the declaration. The delegations from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia refused to go along until the paragraph disappeared. The framers of the Constitution did not do much better 12 years later. They put in writing that a black person is three-fifths of a person. And 90 years later the Civil War and three amendments to the Constitution fixed it on paper but not in practice. We still have work to do to establish and protect equal rights for black people and all minorities. All who are vulnerable to injustice and inhumanity have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence set us on a remarkable journey to make a nation and people. The journey continues to this day. I believe our journey is judged by whom we include in the “we” of that American scripture penned 240 years ago.
The Declaration of Independence named God as the source of people’s unalienable rights. The Word of God records the journey of God’s people becoming the “we” of the Christian church. This journey too is marked by great strides and accomplishments for all people.
A little more than 20 years after the death of Jesus, a convert become evangelist named Paul wrote to churches he founded in a backwater of the Roman world called Galatia. His words are at the least dramatic, at the most, revolutionary in their call to bring people together: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Another evangelist 30 years later records the words of Peter’s first sermon. The final words challenged a world where people were born into their place in life and that place for most meant a life of suffering and servitude: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Then just a few years later an evangelist named John penned words that even today are remembered and cherished by many. And they are meant for all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
The Jesus movement grew. The Galilean poor people who followed Jesus spread his message. More poor people joined. Slaves heard the message of freedom. Rich people heard the message of life. People rejected by the world found acceptance in the God of heaven. And people who thought they had it all in seats of power found there is more far beyond anything or anyone they could imagine.
But the Christian journey has taken some unfortunate turns. The sacred writings of the Christian religion accepted slavery. One even says, “let the women be silent in church” and defined women’s role in life to be one of “submission.” The Christian religion has brought many blessings. It also must acknowledge its failings.
Jefferson penned his declaration 240 years ago. It is our privilege and life as Americans to live those words, share those words and to bring rights claimed long ago to life today and for all.
The one named Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago. It is the privilege and life of those who bear his name to be his hands and voice in a world that still seeks life and peace for all.