Lifestyles Left and Right

Mourning the Fourth of July

According to some liberal Christians, America's War of Independence was unjust, and July 4 is no cause for celebration.

By 7.7.11

Send to Kindle

Should Christians have ignored America’s Independence Day to protest our nation’s supposed imperialist foundation upon an unjust war? Many on the Religious Left, supported by a growing pacifist chorus among church elites, think July 4 is a naughty holiday, more suited to atonement than celebration.

"Tonight we [are] suppose[ed] to celebrate a successful violent rebellion of 'Christian' Americans against 'Christian' Brits," complained Minnesota mega-church pastor Greg Boyd on the 4th. "I bet Jesus won't join." Author of Myth of Christian Nation, Boyd earned New York Times acclaim in 2006 when he renounced his traditional conservatism from the pulpit in favor of a leftist pacifism that demonizes America. 

Boyd followed up his grim July 4 tweet by asking: "So if you kill someone you don't know from a different country, it’s murder, but if your president or king sanctions it, it's noble?" Having embraced the burgeoning Neo-Anabaptist movement among evangelical elites, Boyd rejects Christianity’s traditional understanding that civil rulers, unlike individuals, are vocationally ordained to routinely employ force, through police or military, in defense of justice. America’s founding through a War of Independence makes its very existence illegitimate to these disgruntled religionists. Distinguishing themselves from supposedly blindly patriotic conservative Christians is also an important goal.

Liberal evangelist Tony Campolo, one-time counselor to President Bill Clinton post-Monica, celebrated July 4 by tweeting that the American Revolution was unjust. Some on the Religious Left still pay lip service to Christianity’s Just War tradition, even as they fail to identify a single conflict (especially involving the U.S.) that complies with their impossibly narrow interpretation. The anti-July 4 analysis that Campolo tweeted came from self-professed Anabaptist activist Kurt Willems, who does not believe in Just War, but deploys the tradition as a weapon against the American Revolution.

"Only about three years ago did I realize that in celebrating Independence Day I’m also glorifying the pagan roots on which this nation was founded: an unjust war," Willems explained on Campolo’s liberal Red Letter Christians website. "The 'rockets' red glare’ and 'the bombs bursting in air' remind us not of the day God liberated the colonies, but of the moment in history when our forefathers stole the rhetoric of God from authentic Christianity to justify killing fellow Christians." Like others on the Religious Left, Williams apparently wants Christians to set aside the fireworks and instead to don sackcloth and ashes on July 4.

Willems repeated the myth that Christianity was pacifistic until Constantine, and then argued that George Washington and his comrades were illegitimate insurgents merely peeved about high taxes. He admitted that some colonists suspected a wider threat to their liberties, but their irrational fears were based on "conspiracy." The ties between the colonies and Britain were "no different than modern U.S. policy, than modern policy in Puerto Rico," he claimed. Willems omitted the fact that Puerto Rico routinely votes on its ties to the U.S. And no U.S. troops are currently in Puerto Rico threatening to arrest its leaders, seize its weapons, close its ports, or usurp its courts.

America’s Founding Fathers, according to Willems, were also hypocrites since some owned slaves. But the British Empire also countenanced slavery, and slavery in Britain’s Caribbean islands especially was even more brutal than in the 13 colonies. The American Revolution fueled an upsurge in anti-slavery sentiment. Most states of the new union abolished slavery before the British Empire did. Just War teaching, contrary to the claims of Anabaptists who strive to nullify it, requires good intent but not humanly-impossible purity. In typical Anabaptist fashion, Williams also recalled that Jesus did not advocate Israel’s armed revolution against Rome. But neither did Christ critique Rome’s military policies. Jesus’s vocation as Divine Savior did not include the role of political activist, contrary to the Religious Left’s usual claims.

Also blogging for Red Letter Christians, neo-Anabaptist activist Shane Claiborne, a popular speaker among young evangelicals, warned on July 4 that "patriotism can be a dangerous thing if it leads to amnesia about the dark patches of our nation’s history." He proposed that instead of Independence Day, Americans celebrate "Interdependence Day," to recognize that "we are part of a global neighborhood." Launching fireworks to honor such globaloney seems unlikely.

Fortunately, the vast majority of U.S. Christians are not captive to the sullen angst that grips Religious Left elites every July. More commonly believed are the comments of Retired U.S. Army Brigadier and Assistant Chief of Chaplains General James Spivey, now a professor of church history. "I think God has wired all people to have an innate love of country -- a deep and abiding affinity for kinsmen and neighbors of common heritage and like values," he recently told American Baptist Press. "It is healthy and right for Americans to love America, to think of it as a great nation, and to be proud of its stand for liberty and equal opportunity. It is natural for citizens of any nation to feel this way as long as their homeland stands for values that are honorable and just." Spivey also warned of nationalism veering into idolatry. But even every legitimate human attachment can become idolatrous if distorted. Should Mother’s Day be denounced because many love their moms more than God?

The Religious Left has its own idolatrous notion of utopian human perfection, from which America uniquely among all nations falls disastrously short. All human history is besmirched with human folly and depravity.  America’s founding, though instigated by sinful men, was blessed with both heroic and realistic notions of human dignity and liberty that have benefitted nearly all of humanity. Americans of faith can vigorously celebrate America’s independence with special appreciation. The chronic naysayers, perhaps alone in their closets on the next July 4, merit both smiles and sympathy.   

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.