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Christians can work to heal divisions, build up unity in our country

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Independence Day, which we marked earlier last week, is special for me, not so much for the backyard cookouts or the fireworks, as enjoyable as these can be, as for its roots in history. I like to imagine in my mind’s eye the brave men who gathered in Philadelphia 242 years ago to declare for all the world to hear the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain.

My visit nearly three years ago to Independence Hall in Philadelphia where that great event took place sharpens my vision of what happened there. So does the stirring portrayal of it in the 2008 Home Box Office miniseries, John Adams, which told the story of one of the principal founding father of our country and its second president.

Reflecting on and relishing in that tremendous moment in the history of the world is not an exercise of sentimentality about the past. The truths about the human condition, true human rights and the right ordering of society for which so many gave their lives in the War for Independence is relevant to us here and now.

In the month leading up to Independence Day this year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in cases related to religious liberty and freedom of speech, both of which were principles that the founding fathers were willing to risk so much to defend.

There are many divisions in our country about how these cases should have been decided. Should a baker be able to follow his conscience in not creating a custom-made cake for a same-sex wedding? Should pro-life crisis pregnancy centers be compelled to tell the women it serves about the availability of state-supported abortions? Is the president free to bar people from a group of countries that are primarily Muslim to travel to the United States after he has made statements that disparage adherents of that faith?

The particular details of these cases would not have been in the minds of our founding fathers. But the principles behind them surely were. The founding fathers had many divisions among themselves. It was hard work for them just to arrive at the Declaration of Independence. Yet they were convinced that important principles like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” drew them together as one nonetheless.

Many people are familiar with the phrase I quoted above that is near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. What is less remembered is the sentence that closes it: “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

The independence that was declared on July 4, 1776, required a strong faith in God and the pledging of the lives of the founding fathers. For if their effort to make the independence of the colonies had failed, they would have all been hanged as traitors by the British government.

There was great religious diversity among the founding fathers. Some were pious believers with a definite creed. Others were vague in their beliefs, being more formed by the rational spirit of their age than by the Gospel. This diversity of attitudes toward faith is present in our country today.

Christians in America, though, can contribute to the healing of our divisions and the building up of a common bond like the one expressed at the end of the Declaration of Independence by their faith and giving of themselves to the common good like the founders of our country did so long ago.