It is the fourth of July and “freedom” is ringing loudly from every fair, shopping mall, and even some churches. As I drove past a Presbyterian church on this Independence Day, these words were emblazoned on their sign facing the main road: “Happy Fourth of July! For freedom Christ has set us free! Galatians 5:1″
I must first say I praise God that in Christ he has set us free. And I also must say that I’m glad there are still churches that proclaim this message that Paul proclaimed almost two millennia ago.
But I must also express concern about the use of “freedom” that this sign invokes. A sign like this suggests that American freedom is equivalent to Christian freedom. A sign like this suggests that two hundred years ago when the revolutionary congress spoke out against the tyranny of King George, they were speaking for the freedom that Christ has purchased for all humans. A sign like this intimates that when the American minutemen and militia took up arms against the red coats, they were taking up arms in the name of Christian freedom. But Christian freedom is not American freedom. Whereas American freedom prizes self-determination, Christian freedom teaches bondage to the person of Christ. Whereas American freedom lionizes individual liberties, Christian freedom reminds us that we are communal beings and that we have life and liberty only insofar as we exist in the Spirit-filled community of Christ’s corporate Body. Whereas American freedom promises that each man’s home can be his castle, Christian freedom requires the people of God to bow to the Lordship of Christ who reigns over all. Whereas American freedom promotes an individual’s right to choose, Christian freedom reminds us that we have been chosen and that our choices are made possible only because of the choices of Christ. All of this is not to say that what the revolutionaries pushed for was anti-Christian. Surely Christians must stand for Christian justice, which commands that we stand for the other – the marginalized, oppressed, and unrepresented. But it does seem to me that we need to call into question the presumption that what the revolutionaries pushed for was simply Christian. What this sign exemplifies is a subtle, but dangerous possibility: that Christian freedom can be accommodated to and perhaps even identified with American freedom.
So as we reflect on what it means to be free, let’s remember on this day that symbolizes the day of liberty what it means to be Christianly free: it means to be bound, to be a slave, to be a servant to Christ whose kingdom provides an alternative vision for what it means to be free and flourish in the world.
Jimmy Myers (B.A., Covenant College) is a native of St. Louis and a recent graduate of Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He majored in philosophy, and his interests include epistemology and political theology.