Woke Or Awakened? Thoughts On July 4th
By Jeremy White • Valley Church • Vacaville, California
Jeremy is a long-time member of Team interlinc, both as a youth leader and as a pastor. He has written tons of YLO Bible studies and his article “Why I’m A Pastor And Still A YLO Member” was featured in our 30th-year edition of YLO.
As July 4 approaches, and in light of the turmoil on display in America’s streets right now, I’ve been re-reading and reflecting on the U.S. Constitution.
In the preamble (which I still know by heart from memorizing it back in middle school) one of the key phrases about the intent of the Constitution is to “form a more perfect Union.”
It is important to always keep in perspective that these wildly imperfect framers were not making any claims of a perfect union, but of aiming for the creation of one “more perfect” than that from which they had defected.
While we can and must decry the hypocrisy of various evils and inconsistencies such as slavery, misogyny, etc. (so that we never repeat them again), I pray we do not lose gratitude for the profound fact that these founding documents of the American experiment were thankfully by nature a breeding-ground for self-correction.
Ironically, America’s founding ideals, (enshrined in such documents) became the very basis upon which such societal and personal hypocrisies eventually began to be called out and corrected.
Is observing Independence Day a wholesale affirmation of the entire history of America? Of course not. Do you celebrate your own birthday? If so, are you affirming or justifying or minimizing every poor decision or self-destructive action in your entire past? No, and the same is true for anybody’s birthday you choose to celebrate.
To truly love, according to Scripture, involves “keeping no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Of course, this truth is revealed in the context of human relationships, but what is America, if not a nation with a history of very imperfect humans, in need of forgiveness, seeking to form a more perfect union?
To “keep no record of wrongs” does not imply that we overlook or gloss over past sins, mistakes or injustices…even in the context of collective or systemic failure. Rather, it simply means that we as believers in Christ do not hold onto past sins (whether personal or collective) with an attitude toward retribution.
This humble posture is one I’m seeing right now in many of my black friends who follow Christ. And as a white guy who doesn’t always say things perfectly or understand things completely, I’m grateful they do not see me as a target worthy of their anger over things that happened long before any of us were ever born, or even over current blind spots that may still exist in my own life right now.
When I celebrate America’s birthday (and this has been true for years), I give thanks for God’s mercy upon us as a nation…that from day one of our many imperfect endeavors, the One who created all men equal has seen fit to allow this country to improve in ways that would not have been possible if not for the ideals laid out in the very Constitution we have never perfectly lived up to.
Thankfully, people of all colors have rightly pointed to this Constitution and other relevant founding ideals to continue that original quest of attempting to form “a more perfect union.” It appears that in some areas, we’re crushing it. In other areas, we’re stumbling along. And in still others, we are failing miserably.
In today’s America, the fact that 10-20 black youngsters are dying by gunfire on the streets of Chicago every weekend right now should be breaking the hearts of every decent American. It is equally outrageous to consider that nearly 40% of abortions in America are performed on black women who represent only 13% of the female population. This is not a political statement, but a moral lament, because the fact that such a high number of black women are unable to celebrate pregnancy and motherhood joyously for a multiplicity of reasons is horrifying, to say the least.
I could go on, but these are things I think about often as a pastor. And even as I prepare to celebrate my gratitude for America this July 4, realities like these remind me that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly the only hope for mankind.
I believe that the American idea is worth fighting for…worth risking our lives for…not because we are or ever were a “perfect union,” but because we are afforded the daily opportunity to pursue becoming a “more perfect union” today than we were yesterday.
Unfortunately, many politicians drunk on power want to pit us against each other to garner support at the ballot box. Americans…and especially Americans who claim to follow Christ…should not be sucked into this.
As a Christ-follower, I believe that racism (or any other societal ill) is ultimately incurable outside of spiritual heart transformation found in Jesus Christ. It was Christ who defied the racism of his day by befriending Samaritans and proactively loving Gentiles. And it is that same Christ living in and through me (and you) that the world so desperately needs to experience in action.
So on my list of things to be thankful for this July 4 include:
- My American brothers and sisters of all skin-colors
- The freedom I enjoy as an American to live and express my faith without fear of serious persecution
- The fact that my son felt compelled to serve his country in the US Air Force as he begins his adult life
- My WWII veteran grandfather who is with Jesus now
- The daily opportunity to participate in forming a more perfect union based upon the Bill of Rights
- Most importantly, my freedom in Christ, which I share with all believers the world over, transcending national borders, political affiliation, socio-economic circumstance or any other barrier between us
Today I hope you feel encouraged to keep loving and living your daily life as an expression of Christ to every person God brings across your path. It’s not about feeling like you’re woke enough, but rather about being awakened from the death that once bound you to the despair of a Christless life and future, and pointing others to that awakening.
As our Savior said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart and be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!”
I’m celebrating my American citizenship this weekend, but as I’ve said many times publicly, I will never confuse Kingdom with country. My earthly citizenship is an important part of my life, but my heavenly citizenship – tethered to my relationship with Jesus – IS my very life.
May I never forget it… and if you agree, may you never forget it either.