July 3, 2012
July 4th: A Call for Prayer
Thank you to Logan Mehl-Laituri for this reflection on Independence Day.
July 4th is not just a day to barbeque and catch up with friends. It is a day to remember our independence and how we became a distinct people as Americans. It was this day 236 years ago that a number of courageous souls openly declared that monarchy was no longer a tolerable form of political expression. They demanded popular sovereignty, and they eventually got it.
I think the experiment they inaugurated was an incredible achievement. But it also wasn't perfect. Popular sovereignty is coupled with popular responsibility. If we are proud of our nation's successes, we also must mourn our collective failures. If we love our country, it means that we bear with it through sickness and good health.
Our nation's military forces, which contributed significantly to our freedom from colonial rule, might be a bellwether. If it is, then we are in a period of ill health, and our country needs to realize this. For many years now, more soldiers have been falling on their own swords here at home than have been falling to the sword in battle (which has raged longer than ever before in our history). As we have for centuries, Christians need to pray for our country, that the violence on all sides of the gun may cease.
As Christians, we can sometimes forget who our real founding fathers were. While I certainly share in the cultural heritage Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington birthed, my true identity is defined by folks like Peter, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Martin of Tours. I might be distinctively American, but I am determinatively Christian. I love my country, but I love God more.
So what might happen if we let our identity rest more in Christ than in country? How might that impact the militiamen (and women) who will likely grace innumerable parades today? The Church has not questioned war very well, leaving it to the individual service members themselves to wrestle with war and morality. Without a larger moral framework, soldiers and veterans often feel the responsibility laid solely on their shoulders. Though some might be guilty, all are responsible.
Nobody goes to war alone in a democracy; we all share the burden. At worst, even the "us-versus-them" mentality reflects the fact that it's all of "us" that go to war. As recently as my parents' generation, waging war had social impact; taxes were increased to share the monetary burden, food was rationed and gardens flourished. Even professional sports stopped. We could not just change the channel, nor should we continue to do so.
Silence and complacency are no longer options, they are a betrayal. Churches have men and women serving in the armed forces who collectively suffer the worst suicide rate ever recorded. This year there has been one soldier suicide every day . If the trend continues, it will double the rate from last year, which itself was a record high. For half a decade at least, veterans have been ending their own lives at a rate of seventeen per day. This is not merely a statistic, it's an epidemic.
If we love our country and those who protect it—and we should—then July 4th is a day to do more than celebrate; it is a day to act, a day to pray. The wars are not over, not for those who fought them. The war in their hearts and minds will rage for years, maybe the rest of their lives. You, Church, are to pray for the wars to find their end. Some of us may fight with weapons, but we all fight with our faith.
Today, remember your founding fathers, remember their deaths as readily as you do your brothers and sisters. More often than not, their blood was spilled not in the fight, but in the refusal to fight. Their blood was not a cry for war, but a call to prayer. Let that prayer be heard in your life and in the lives of those who suffer on both sides of the gun. Let freedom ring for both the victims and perpetrators of collective violence. May God's will be done.