Allegiance and independence
By Kristin Berkey-Abbott
When the patriotic holidays roll around, I’m glad not to be a pastor or a church musician. I'm one of those strange people who feels that national flags don't belong in the sanctuary, and I don’t want to sing patriotic songs during worship. At the same time, I’m the daughter of an Air Force colonel, so I understand why people want to recognize the service and the history of service, which have allowed us the freedom to worship and the freedom to disagree about the best ways to worship.
If we don’t want to sing “God Bless America” at church on Sunday, what are some other ways to celebrate this holiday?
Each year as Independence Day approaches, I take a moment to reread the Declaration of Independence. It’s important to remember the significance of what those early patriots accomplished and the high stakes that those signers of the Declaration of Independence faced. It's good to remember how much they valued the idea of freedom, even if they didn't extend those freedoms to all.
It is crucial to remember how few people across the globe enjoy these freedoms. It’s a good time to pray for those who are oppressed in this way. Perhaps we want to do more: There are letters to be written, money that could be donated – it’s a great way to celebrate Independence Day by requesting freedom for others who are not free to make the demand for themselves.
It’s also a perfect time to think about our own priorities. The founders of the United States pledged their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor – what would we pledge? What movement would demand this of us?
And now, for perhaps the most difficult question: Would we make that sacrifice for God? On this day where so many of us are pledging allegiances, to whom do we pledge our allegiance? Do our actions match our words?
It is fine to pray for the country and the military. It’s essential to remember that our primary loyalty must be to the kingdom of God.
Independence Day also gives us a great opportunity to think about our own individual chains. What’s keeping us from freedom? If we named our deepest oppressions, what would make the top five on the list?
For those of us oppressed by others, we may feel that we’ll never be free. On Independence Day, I like to think of improbable freedom. In my lifetime, I remember my college friends and our “Free Nelson Mandela” T-shirts that we wore in the 1980s. We didn’t expect him to ever walk out of that jail – but he did. It’s the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a cultural touchstone for an earlier generation of college kids and activists – but the lesson remains the same. Freedom may seem impossible, but if we stay steady on the course, the chains may drop away.
So this weekend, let us sing our freedom songs, whatever they may be. Let us pray for liberation from all the forces that oppress humans. Let us pledge allegiance to our God who sets us free.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college professor and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative-writing classes for the last 20 years.