Sweet Freedom’s Song

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees,
Sweet Freedom’s song.

The church I attended last Sunday made no mention of the fact that our nation would celebrate the 237th anniversary of its independence this week, nor that this week includes the 150th anniversary of the pivotal Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. I was disappointed.”Politics and Religion don’t mix” we say – too simplistically – in my mind. Of course they mix. Our deepest values and commitments are what inspire our political opinions and motivate our political commitments and votes. It is true that the Founders were careful about an organic relationship between religion and politics when they refused to establish a national church for the new nation, as many members of the Continental Congress wished to do. Church and State would here be separate entities, a basic American principal enshrined in the Bill of Rights. No established church supported by taxes, no religious test for citizenship or political leadership. But the Founders would be surprised at the suggestion that religion and politics don’t mix.

One of the marvels of this experiment in republican democracy is the founding value of a radical, personal liberty. We are not a religiously defined state, we are not a “Christian nation”, the government is not Christian or any other religion. We are free here to practice our religion or not.

Political thinkers at the time thought that it couldn’t possibly work,  that a state needed a religious base and the church needed government encouragement and support in order to survive. Well, survive and thrive both, state and religious institutions have done here. Freedom of religion is a liberty deserving of our gratitude and the 4th of July is a good time to express it.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is the site of what turned out to be the pivotal battle of the Civil War, fought between huge armies of the Confederacy and the Union. The loss of life and limb was enormous, unlike any day in American experience up to that time. After three days of fierce and tragic fighting, General Robert E. Lee ordered the Confederate army to retreat, although the war continued for two years. The Civil War was fought for several reasons, chief among them, slavery and the way of life the enslavement of African men, women and children made possible for the American elite. And underlying the struggle and the enmity was a question of the very identity of our young nation. Are we are a loose federation of sovereign states, each free to go about its business as it’s citizens prefer? Or are we one sovereign nation made up of the several states, citizens bound together by law, constitution and a common vision of who we all are, each one of us. The South fought for the supremacy of States’ Rights: the North for national unity. Historians point out that before the Civil War, and particularly the Battle of Gettysburg, the nation was referred to as “These United States”. But, after the war we became “The United States of America”, one nation.

It has been a durable unity. Events in the Middle East, as nations seem to be unravelling in the midst of sectarian, geographic and ethic rivalries, remind us of how rare, and precious, our national unity is. That unity is stretched and strained and challenged at times and we seem to be in one of those times currently, with politicians gaining traction by proposing to distance their states from the rest of us, some even suggesting a form of secession. But we remain a unique phenomenon in world history, a united national government, made up of 50 states, with a Bill of Rights and a continuing commitment to individual liberty.

That, it has always seemed to me, warrants our profound gratitude and renewed commitment. So, as I have every year, I displayed the American flag this morning and will thank God for this amazing nation.

It does not mean a blind patriotism that mindlessly applauds and supports every decision our government makes. There are many decisions our representatives have made in recent years that have made me cringe. In fact, an appropriate patriotism demands an honest, open-eyed, and on occasion, critical love of country. The late Bill Coffin got it right when he said, “Don’t say ‘My country right or wrong. That’s like saying ‘My grandmother, drunk or sober’. It doesn’t get you anywhere.” An appropriate patriotism loves our country enough to be critical and to always hope and pray and work toward the goal of our nation living up to its own highest and most nobel ideas and values.

So – thanks be to God for the United States of America, for Founders and Patriots, for brave men and women who have served our nation in the military and who serve faithfully today, for strong and visionary leaders and for the precious gift of freedom.

Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing:
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King.


  1. Beautifully stated. Thank God for our country.

  2. Sandy Mathias says:

    Thank you, John. We miss your weekly words. Thank you for sharing these words that are important to us all.

  3. Thanks for this reflection!

    We didn’t mention Independence Day last Sunday, because Palatine’s celebrations begin tonight and go through the weekend–so it will be mentioned in the prayers and possibly in a bit of the sermon this coming Sunday instead. It’s hard when the holiday is in the middle of the week–which Sunday do you reach for?

  4. Judi Simon says:

    Thanks be to God, for you John Buchanan, as you continue your ministry. I’m delighted to be able to read your blog. I have missed your wonderful sermons.

    Judi Simon

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