Living in the state of Pennsylvania has always carried a rich legacy of history. We’ve long held the nickname of The Keystone State, due in part to the abundance of old stone arch railroad bridges built with keystones to anchor them together. William Penn, Valley Forge, the Liberty Bell, the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776—all speak of an integral era in the formation of the great nation we call the United States of America. In many ways, the heart and history of Pennsylvania serve as a reflection of our entire nation.
In March of 2004, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell announced the state’s new marketing slogan “The State of Independence”. My family recently saw this slogan posted on a sign as we returned from a vacation in Maryland. I find it interesting, however, that little is said about Pennsylvania’s motto: “Virtue, Liberty and Independence”. In fact, I didn’t even know we had such a motto until I took the time to look it up.
When we think of liberty and independence, many in our culture focus on the freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want. Our forefathers saw things differently. Liberty and independence meant freedom from tyranny and oppression; the ability to live peacefully, but according to a collective moral conscience. In their eyes, virtue was the keystone that joined with liberty and independence to form the true arch of freedom. Unfortunately, virtue, or moral excellence, isn’t a word we hear much these days. And because virtue is lacking, genuine freedom is being eroded like a beach in a hurricane.
The United States of America became a great nation because its founding documents were constructed upon a Judeo-Christian foundation. Not all of our forefathers were active believers in God, but they recognized the invaluable contribution of Biblical principles nonetheless. And really, the roots of our national freedom are embedded in no other place than the New Covenant in Christ.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (NASB)
I understand that few people, even professing believers, recognize this aspect of the Gospel. They tend to see Christianity as a list of rules that must be obeyed in order to placate an angry God. We need only look back to the Garden of Eden to recognize that the human race was created in an environment of freedom. In seeking liberty, we are merely trying to return to our God-given roots. But independence from tyranny is a very different creature than independence from God.
Recently I watched a news report in which a government official expressed outrage over the death of young girl who was accidentally killed as gang members sought to gun down a rival. I couldn’t help but respond with a bit of anger over the whole affair. Many forces in our nation, including many in government, incessantly push for independence from God. In the name of freedom they continue to systematically erode virtues integrated with Biblical principles. And when those virtues are gone, with disdain they lament the death and chaos that cannot help but ensue.
Independence from God, the one true source of life, will always result in death. Freedom of choice without love for God and others is not freedom at all. If our motivations are selfish, if virtue is lacking, the arch collapses because the keystone is missing. Our freedom cannot possibly last unless all Americans, from the general populace to those serving in office, are motivated by a love beyond self.
I suppose this is my one semi-political commentary for the year. I love my country, and although I’ll probably never run for congress, or fight on a battlefield like so many of our brave soldiers, I will continue to contend for the faith and freedom from which our nation was birthed. I doing so I wish you all a happy Independence (from tyranny) Day!
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13 (NASB)