Director’s Log | June 2020

A Declaration of Interdependence

A lot of people have been doing a lot of thinking about freedom and independence in the past month. It is the issue of the moment.

Some of the thinking has happened around the June 19 celebration of the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when the final enslaved people in the final former Confederate state were declared “free.” (Listen to Rev. James White on the importance of Juneteenth here).

And some of the thinking comes with the 244th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the intent of colonists to be free of British governance, free from being taxed without the right to participate in government. (Listen to Dr. Craig Friend for some surprising facts about the original July 4 here).

But we have also been thinking about the practice of those freedoms.

The deaths of (most recently) Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have brought painful, important new attention to the lived experience of people of color in the United States, where systems of policing, incarceration, banking, hiring and others have limited freedom to fully enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The debate over reopening North Carolina challenges our concept of freedom in another way. Is freedom our ability to go where we want, when we want, and to NOT wear a mask if we choose? What if that freedom endangers another person’s safety?

Dr. Friend reminds us that ever since the original July 4th, the notion of “freedom” has been heard differently by different people, and that Thomas Jefferson himself encouraged the concepts of his declaration to be reinterpreted with each generation. We’ve seen the interpretation of rights and freedom evolve since 1776, when it applied to white men who owned property. Over time the concept has been broadened to include voting rights and protections to white men of any religion (1828); then to white men who don’t own property (1856); then (officially) to Black men (1865, 1868, 1870 and 1965); then to women (1920); then to Native Americans (1947); then to Asian Americans (1952); then to people regardless of age or disability (1965); then, earlier this month, to people regardless of sexual identification or orientation. The “promissory note” of the Declaration of Independence is inching closer to full redemption.

This 4th of July, as we struggle to sort through how to address these crises we are facing, it’s clearer than ever that we aren’t going to make it – economically or physically – if we can’t trust each other.

We don’t talk about it as much, but one of the key concepts of the original declaration of independence was its call to a shared commitment, one to which we would “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Can we believe in this country and in those truths enough to come together even in – especially in – this time? This 4th of July, can we commit to a new declaration of – and belief in and commitment to – interdependence?