Sunday, July 2, 2017

Celebrate July 4th! Learn from History!

This weekend, Americans pause to celebrate the Fourth of July, or Independence Day.  Many patriotic Americans associate “the 4th” with the beginning of the great American experiment in constitutional, democratic government—an experiment the likes of which the world had never seen.

Fittingly, in celebration of our great nation at this time of year, Abby and I have just finished reading The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic, by Michael Medved.   In it, Medved argues along the lines of the famous thesis of one of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.  You may recall some of Franklin’s words when, in 1787, he challenged a deadlocked Constitutional Convention to consider having a session of prayer.  Here is part of Franklin’s call to humility, prayer, and dependence upon Divine Providence (emphasis mine):

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments be Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

Michael Medved’s book details several major turning points in America’s history from Washington to Lincoln in which  the fate of America hung in the balance but was allowed to move forward with no seeming explanation other than the hand of Divine Providence.  Medved makes a strong case for “American exceptionalism,” a term that is heavily debated these days.  He writes,

For nearly four hundred years, Americans nourished the notion that God maintained an intimate, protective connection to their singular nation.  Only recently, with the emphasis on guilt over gratitude in our teaching of American history, has the public grown uncomfortable with the idea that fate favors American endeavors.

On the other hand, many Americans argue that America is not exceptional and are quick to point out America’s “dark side.”  Our history classes rightly include the deplorable treatment of Native Americans, American support for the institution of slavery, and other injustices of the past.  Medved admits that these actions were inexcusable, but counters with the following argument:

The idea of America’s higher purpose didn’t produce the instances of obvious injustice in the Republic’s past, nor did it excuse them, but it has inevitably motivated efforts to correct those crimes and to mitigate their negative and unjust impacts.   Medved adds:  Every nation on Earth flagrantly mistreated indigenous peoples and participated at some point in ruthless systems of slavery.  But the American desire to deserve God’s special blessing inspired movements to do better than the rest of the world and to overcome the cruelty—however halting and imperfect those attempts might have been.

On this Fourth of July, America is once again divided over many issues from health care to immigration.  Most of the disagreements stem from a basic disagreement about who is ultimately responsible for the affairs of mankind and of our nation.  About half of Americans seem to believe that we are the masters of our fate and therefore responsible to engineer a more perfect society.  And, roughly the other half of Americans believe we must turn to God “from Whom all blessings flow” for wisdom to bring guidance necessary for healing of a divided America.

Fortunately, our nation is still blessed with men and women of integrity and who are committed to serve their constituents in the true sense of being “public servants.”  To this human resource we can add another blessed benefit of the Founding Fathers.  Not long after Benjamin Franklin’s reminder of the importance of acknowledging the Providence of God, the Constitutional Convention successfully resolved their impasse regarding the balance of power between the federal government and the individual states.  As a result of the birth of “The United States,” we now have the benefit of fifty “laboratories” in which the American genius of government can continue to adjust to our changing times and the demands of our people.  The citizens of each state can elect a governor and legislators who then lead by crafting policies that work best for that state.
Two states take markedly different fiscal paths.  Lesson?
Sometimes, one state's successes can provide a model or a lesson for the other states to follow.  For example, consider the current fiscal situation in the two neighboring states, Illinois and Wisconsin.  What might current Illinois residents and the residents of many other states learn from the “experiment” currently running in Wisconsin?  And, more importantly, what could all Americans, particularly the generation now populating social studies classes in our schools and colleges learn?  Let’s visit the “laboratories” housed within the borders of Illinois and Wisconsin.

In 2010, both Illinois and Wisconsin were suffering under a huge debt burden after many years of liberal political leadership. But that year, the two states took dramatically different paths. Illinois continued with pretty much the status quo which has led to its current debt to the tune of $14 billion dollars.  This week, Illinois has been reported to be on the verge of bankruptcy.  Years of financial irresponsibility under liberal, progressive policies at the state level and particularly in the City of Chicago have apparently led to a day of reckoning. 
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

On the other hand, a majority of Wisconsin voters wisely chose to do something about their state’s mounting debt following years of irresponsible liberal policies.  Badger state voters elected a Republican legislature and a conservative governor, Scott Walker.  Governor Walker immediately instituted conservative fiscal policies and was excoriated by the liberal establishment through state house demonstrations bolstered by bused-in demonstrators that made national news.  Walker overcame an attempt to oust him as governor by winning re-election and his policies are working.  Unemployment rate has dropped from 9.2 percent in 2009 to the current 6.1 percent; and Wisconsin can boast a projected $977 million surplus which Governor Walker proposes using to assist technical colleges and reduce income taxes by $98 million.  According to The Blaze, “The end result would be a $131 reduction a median home’s tax bill this December and $46 in annual income tax savings for the average worker.”

Since the successes of Wisconsin have become nationally publicized, voters in other states have elected conservative governors and legislators.  Unfortunately, Illinois has not learned a lesson from its neighbor to the north, and now its fiscal status hangs in the balance.  Similarly, our nation has suffered many  setbacks in the past because we failed to learn our history lessons.  Today, many Americans are ignorant of our history.  Public schools and colleges often deemphasize American history and government.  In many cases, history is ignored or “revised” because true American history is so rich with “His-story”—God’s story.

On this Fourth of July, I am concerned that more and more Americans are suffering from historical amnesia.  At a time when access to historical information has never been greater, parents in our homes and teachers in our schools have every opportunity to enrich the next generation by exposing young people to American history in creative ways.  As already mentioned above, Michael Medved makes a strong case for the powerful hand of God in the rise of our nation.  Another great resource is Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Learn Our History Series on DVD.   Or, simply take time to read and discuss our founding documents and recommit to your faith in God as our Creator and the Source of our “inalienable rights” as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.  As the Declaration states,

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….
Abraham Lincoln reunited America in reliance on God's mercy.

When we study American history, our need for great heroes can be satisfied.  At the same time, our lives are enriched by great heroes of faith like George Washington, John Adams, Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln.  Each of these Americans were flawed human beings who served in a divided, tumultuous culture of their time.  But, they succeeded because they exercised faith in God and cultivated a personal relationship with the greatest Christian Hero of all time, Jesus Christ. 

May the faith commitment of these great Americans remind us and our divided nation today that the God Who used these heroes to raise up a great nation is the God Who can unite Americans once again and heal our land.  As in the great American revivals of the past, we must humble ourselves before God, repent of our pervasive sinfulness, pray for our president and other public servants, and follow Christ’s example of firmness in His convictions seasoned with humility and selfless service toward others.

3 comments:

David Warren said...

This is gteat stuff, John. Thanks forsharing!

jsilvius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Thank you for reading, brother Dave. I've been especially interested in Medved's point that historically those who understood and believed that America was "exceptional" based their belief not on "human perfection,” but on the understanding that as we depend upon a gracious God, He works through us and forgives our shortcomings as individuals and as a nation, and motivates us toward repentance and an effort to rectify injustices. Seems we are now a nation that is fixated on our imperfections but has forgotten, or are reluctant to repent and seek revival through pursuit of God Who will hear our prayers as 2 Chronicles 7: 14 indicates.