NOTE: The following was originally published in June 2009 on the blog, The Finkelsteinery. It is reproduced here by permission,
with only minor revision (formatting, word order, spelling...).
from The Declaration of Independence
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, a separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. –
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. –
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. –
[...snip delineation of abuses...]
“In every stage of the Oppressions, We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends. –
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the Good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. –
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
A couple of points that may be worth pondering:
(1) Notice that Jefferson repeatedly appeals to an Authority transcendent of Man, in defense of our position and actions. He starts with it, and he ends with it. In contrast, it is the political fashion these days to enforce a broad and impenetrable separation of politics from religion, and on this basis to adopt a belligerent posture toward the functions of Religion in society, and to censure religious speech in the public sphere. What happens, politically speaking, when “the governed” are denied an appeal to God before those who would govern them? That is to ask, what happens when “the governed” are denied an appeal to an Authority to Whom “their Sovereigns” owe accountability? Does not their accountability then rise no higher than themselves and their own political allegiances and objectives in this case? Under God, governors are Servants, not Lords. Without God, they are utilitarian Lords, and “the governed” are reduced to pleading, on the basis of mere human solidarity, in the name of “their Sovereigns’” kind benevolence. Given that mankind is fallen and sinful, can the People expect any such benevolence? What does history teach us? What is the sensible conclusion given the obvious testimony of Natural Law in this regard?
(2) It is currently fashionable among Lutherans, it seems, to parrot Luther in applying Biblical teaching to the role of the Christian with respect to his government, to advocate near unquestioning obedience, with the only mitigating criteria being whether government takes on the role of the Church, or requires individuals to disobey God. They seem to equate individuals with political authority, rather than Law with political authority. This was a perfectly legitimate conclusion in Luther’s day, given the form of government he was under – a feudal system where individuals as Sovereigns were indeed the embodiment of political authority. Jesus, along with St. Paul and St. Peter, were addressing the Christian’s obligations to government in a political context incongruent with ours, as well: the Republic of Rome fell before the birth of Christ, becoming the Roman Empire (a military dictatorship) in 27 B.C., with the appointment of Augustus as Caesar.
In our system of government, however, no individual has such political authority. The last vestiges of the Rule of Man were swept away by the People, themselves, with the Declaration of Independence, and it was replaced by the People with the Rule of Law, under the U.S. Constitution. Law, not any individual, holds political authority in our system of government. And individuals who occupy offices in our form of government, do so within strict boundaries under the Law, not as Sovereigns in any respect, but as manifest Servants of the People. In our system of government, the People are their own Sovereign, electing from among themselves Servants to Represent them within the boundaries of the Law. Such Representatives are not to be regarded as holding any form of political authority, but as mere Servants under the authority of the People, as the People derive and institute their own Law through them, placing all individuals equally under it. In our system of government, the People embody political authority, not individuals, and not institutions of government. This is called self-government. This is political Liberty.
Thus, Representatives who act outside the purview of their office, whether collectively by passing un-Constitutional laws or laws which fundamentally militate against the People in favor of the State, or individually by creating laws through Judicial fiat or abuse of Executive privilege, do so as political enemies of both the People and of Liberty. Indeed, their actions are un-Lawful in the deepest sense of the word. They create chaos out of Order, and stand in rebellion against God and His institution of Government – which in our society is Of the People, By the People, and For the People. Remember that old phrase?
While the obligation of obedience stands without question, the real questions for Christians in our society remain: To whom or what is obedience rightly rendered? and Are the People bound under Civic Duty to resist the un-Lawful? and if so, What obligations does this place on the individual?
And I wonder, given that political Liberty was brought to us in the Modern Age, What will Liberty be like in the post-Modern Age?
(3) Interestingly, our Declaration seems to stand as a form of “confessional unity” in the Political Estate. The intent was unity under the words and principles it declares, as the authors “mutually pledg[ed] to each other [their] Lives, Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor.” Do we so pledge today? There was a time, I remember, when, despite differences of opinion (which create political parties and other factions) and the various actions of individuals proving motivations to the contrary, we could collectively be regarded as standing united under the principles of Liberty. Does this unity still exist? How important is such unity to the continuity and integrity of our nation? I, for one, being convinced of its vital importance, am seeing less and less evidence of this unity. What should happen when unity is broken? Do we continue in a state of manifest disunity, while paying lip-service to unity? Is rhetorical unity also manifest unity?
Previous Independance Day articles:
- The Fourth of July is God’s day (2011)
“The focal point of all history [and of the future] is the birth of the man called ‘The Christ’, and the subsequent promulgation of His beautiful Gospel message, especially through the mediums created and put to use by the Anglo-American empires of the 19th and 20th Century’s... I believe that we could do no better today than to commit as much of history to memory as possible, and so prepare ourselves and our children to meet the new challenges that are sure to arise in the future. They are going to need the knowledge, understanding, insight, and courage that only a Christian view of history can give them. We will have to teach them. Only in this way will we preserve our civilization, and, more important, our freedom!”