By Daniel Downs
Last Friday, August 28, America commemorated the famous I Have a Dream speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. Throughout his pivotal protest speech, King alluded his religious faith, hope, and expectation of the freedom from oppression and the mundane challenges of realizing justice. He repeatedly referred to all people as God’s children. This expectant faith for freedom climaxed in the last three paragraphs in which King proclaimed:
… when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
… “Free at last, free at last.
… Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
The negro spiritual directs us back to the source and beginning of social, economic, and political freedom. The God of the Bible. This God liberated the Jews from Egyptian slavery. He is the God of Jesus who was sent to set free those enslaved by addictions, poverty, immorality, despair, as well as effects of oppression. Yet, the liberated are not free from a life without God. That would to return to Egypt or to some other source of bondage.
Is that not exactly what America has done?
The struggle for freedom that Americans enjoy began long ago in halls of Western Christendom. The legal and theological struggle for justice resulted in a long history of natural law rights that included life, liberty, property, and happiness. They were not vague principles as some seem to believe. Legal battles, social conflicts, and wars were fought against those authorities intending to deprive the descents of Anglo-Saxons and others of their inherent and inherited rights. America is an inheritor and promulgator of that long fought heritage of rights law that was firmly rooted and legitimated by biblical principles and right reason, none of which was outside the social or political geography of Christianity.
That is why the Continental Congress established the United States of America by a two-fold covenant: a covenant with God and a social compact with all citizens. That also is why America was established by a two-fold legal compact: a document defining the nation under natural law, the Declaration of Independence, and a document defining the type of government to fulfill the objectives of the national definition including the protection of those rights and perpetuate the right so defined, the Constitution.
King’s promissory note analogy of rights based on the equality of human nature is part of America’s national definition. Thomas Jefferson knew America was already in trouble with God because Negro slavery was made an exception to that equality and the enjoyment of those rights. It was made an exception by removing the clause from the national definition that would have ended slavery forever. Jefferson apprehension of divine judgment for this came to pass. Both the Civil War and the violence during the Civil Rights movement were proof. War, natural disasters, and similar tragedy represented to divine judgment to nearly all early Americans. That was the consensus view of the citizenry and leaders of Christian America until at least the beginning of the twentieth century.
The language of Abraham Lincoln’s speech the Emancipation Proclamation parallels the Declaration of Independence invoking God’s favor for an act of justice rooted in the Constitution. However, that justice was defined in the Declaration not the U.S. Constitution. The 13th Amendment did not become law until 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation was given on January 1, 1863. The language of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment (1868) references the Declaration as well.
Freedom’s God is nature’s God. Nature’s God is humanity’s God who created them. God created humans with an equality of worth and dignity because human nature is a reflection of himself. God created them in his image and capable of his likeness. Natural rights are constituted in socialibility of human nature. Jefferson saw them as gifts of God. They are the goods of the promise land that had to be fought for and must be maintained by a strong defense.
Unfortunately, it seems that that defense has been weakening because the Supreme Judge of the world has been ignored. Maybe God had been ignored for such a long time because America’s intentions has not been rectifiable before the divine bar of justice and truth. Consequently, the Protection of divine Providence cannot be expected. In fact, America officially seems to disregard divine Providence even after disasters like 9/11, Katrina, the great economic recessions, and the like.
Nevertheless, freedom has always been and will always be a divine gift based on moral law and human conformity to it. Without God, freedom progresses to various forms of slavery.