Four Freedoms

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            It’s a beautiful day to be together as we welcome many new members to this beloved community of faith.  In the week ahead, we will celebrate the 4th of July, a day when we might give thanks for the many blessings we have inherited from those who sought to live in freedom.  We know the 4th celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776.  It is an important time for us as people of faith to remember that from the beginning of these united states, the principle of freedom of religion was enshrined in our Constitution.  The US Constitution was composed and ratified by the 13 colonies in 1788 and is the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms of government which have been tried.   Let us pray, We thank you, O God, for the freedoms we know in our lives, for the freedom to believe and worship you in the ways in which we feel called.  Please bless us this day, help us to live up to the best of what this nation has sought to be and help us to work so that others may also know freedom as well. Amen.

            We know that the native peoples who first called this land home had their own sacred rituals to worship God whom they experienced in all of the natural world.  Among those who first came from Europe came in search of freedom to worship as they chose, to embrace their own beliefs and to not have that established by any ruler. Sadly, they did not always share that tolerance with others and some people who worshipped differently chose to leave for other locations to worship freely, including what we now know as Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.  It is no surprise then that the first amendment to the Constitution, known as  The Establishment Clause, ratified in December 1791, included this language: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

            One of the wonderful qualities of our own Union Church is that these doors have long been open to people of all faith traditions and to those raised in various Christian denominations.  We are most fortunate in that we have been able to embrace and celebrate our right to worship as we choose and we have long respected our brothers and sisters of all faith traditions or no particular traditions.  This is something of which to be very proud.

            The principle of freedom, of liberty in its many forms has echoed throughout the history of this nation and while we acknowledge the many ways, we may not have lived up to the best of that principle for all, we aspire to be a nation that, as Lincoln once wrote, listens to its better angels. 

Less than a century ago, on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a memorable State of the Union Address, which later became known as his “Four Freedoms” speech.  This took place just 11 months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the speech was an important one.  He had just been elected to an unprecedented third term and the world faced unprecedented danger, instability, and war. Much of Europe had fallen to the Nazis and Great Britain was barely holding its own. The Japanese Empire occupied much of China and East Asia. A great number of Americans remained committed to isolationism and the belief that the United States should stay out of the war. President Roosevelt understood Britain’s desperate need for American support and attempted to convince the American people to come to the aid of their closest ally.

As he neared the end of his speech, he declared, “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.  The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.  The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.”

He concluded by saying, “This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.”

These freedoms were so universally understandable and acceptable that they formed the basis of the Atlantic treaty with Churchill later that year and the United Nations Declaration a year later.

We too are living in unprecedented times.  I hope that we all understand how privileged we are to have grown up in a place where we have experienced great freedom, including the freedom to worship as we seek.  As we look ahead to the election in the fall, we know that there has been a growing movement of some to spread the teachings of what is called Christian nationalism across our nation.  This is extremely dangerous and certainly goes against everything on which our country is founded.   Christian nationalism is an ideology that is based around the idea that this is a Christian nation, that this was founded as a Christian nation, and, therefore, it should be a Christian nation today and should be so in the future.  Sadly, while these people use the language of Christian in their speeches, their words are filled with hate, racism, and intolerance.  I can safely say that their version of Christianity is not one I would ever recognize.

And so, as we celebrate the birth of our nation, may we always keep in mind the freedoms which have been such a gift to our lives and to our nation.  May we ask God to grant us guidance and strength as we seek to build bridges of unity and love, freedom and righteousness, justice and peace in our land and in the world.  That is at the heart of the teachings of Christ.

May we remember those four freedoms today and forevermore.

The “Four Freedoms” speech remastered