Meaning of freedom - from what or for what?

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Joe Crowley

If you read this article on publication day, July Fourth will be only two days away. Independence Day - fireworks, cookouts, family gatherings, displays of the American flag, parades, concerts, and more.

What's your favorite memory of the Fourth? How do you plan to celebrate the holiday this year? What does the Fourth of July mean to you?

Independence Day commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776. The Continental Congress declared that the 13 American colonies were no longer subject to Britain's monarch and were now united, free, and independent states.

Congress had voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2, but it was not actually declared until July 4. In short, we declared, as a fledgling nation, that we were "free!"

That sounds great - until we remember that not every American was free. Policy toward Native Americans frequently (and brutally) denied freedom to our brothers and sisters. Under chattel slavery, many others were - horribly - anything but free.

Even the 14th Amendment (1868) to the U.S. Constitution, which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States - including former slaves - and which guaranteed all citizens "equal protection of the laws," did not produce freedom for all.

A cursory review of the reconstruction era, racial segregation, and Japanese-American internment challenge our assumptions.

"Freedom is NOT free." I speak as a former U.S. Army military officer. There has never been a nation that has offered more freedom to as many people in as many ways as has the United States. Other thinkers challenge that assertion with concepts such as The Human Freedom Index, showing smaller countries such as New Zealand and the Netherlands as "the most free."

All such measures introduce subjective bias and ignore monumental sacrifice and commitment (such as the Civil War and the U.S. in World War II). Nonetheless, this debate ignores a more fundamental question, "What is freedom all about?"

Many offer simplistic answers that freedom is the ability to do whatever one wants without constraint. But there is another question, "Is freedom being free 'from' something or being free 'to do' something?"

This dilemma is not new. One aspect reveals itself in interviews with individuals who at one time were not free (POWs and inmates) and who, subsequently, became free. The overwhelming response is not that they are free "from" something, but finally free "to do" something! But, to do what?

Here, faith steps to the fore. Early Christians were not very "free" in the Roman empire, though the missionary Paul told them that they were: "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:13-14).

The "faith response" is that we are free to serve others. Free at last! Free to love and free to serve. Happy Fourth of July!

Joe Crowley is director of adult discipleship at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton. jcrowleydmin@gmail.com

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