“…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.”
Acts 17:26 (NASB)
I distinctly remember celebrating Independence Day as a young boy growing up in the Dixie Hills housing projects on the west side of Atlanta. For black families in the 1970s, especially children, the 4th of July was, in many ways, a lot like Christmas.
It was a celebration not only of the birth of America as a nation, but also of family, friends, and God, whom we always credited with providing us the opportunity to live in such a free nation as the United States.
Poor But Proud
Despite the material poverty experienced by the majority of black families in the Dixie Hills community, and others like it, we never lost sight of the significance of having the God-ordained privilege of living in a nation where people are free.
Though my family’s economic station – the measure by which most Americans seem to define a “fair society” – may not have been on par with others we knew, it never negatively influenced or impacted the high view of America that had been imparted to us by our hard-working parents, both of whom had only a high school education.
The elation of celebrating Independence Day was a constant reality for me and my two siblings, as my mom, whose birthday happened to be the 4th of July, would accompany us on the Number 3 bus (we didn’t own a car) to the West End Mall where she would let us shop for new red-white-and-blue “patriotic” clothes to wear that day.
Poor as we were, to us, Independence Day wasn’t just another “holiday” that afforded us a day out of school or our parents a day off from work. It was an occasion that everyone celebrated because we were all Americans who were proud of America. Whatever apparel her my mother’s spare few dollars could afford – be it a new t-shirt, a pair of jeans, a new pair of Converse® hi-top sneakers – my mother would buy for us.
And then there were the picnics at Washington Park.
Ribs, chicken, potato salad, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and all the Big-K (Kroger® grocery store brand) soda you could consume. Not to mention the requisite Soul Train line dance that would ultimately – and hilariously – break out after everyone had had their fill of food.
Indeed, the 4th of July truly was a celebration for most black families back then. The level of excitement my brother, sister, and I had in celebrating Independence Day was as high as that of any child on Christmas Eve night.
But, as I said, that was then.
The Inevitable Assertion
These days it seems there is hardly anything of any redemptive value about America. It is as if all anyone wants to do today is complain about how oppressive it is to live here.
Depending on who you ask, everything that was once celebratory about America now wreaks of racism (or any other “ism” you might care to invent).
Think about it.
In 2017 America it is now considered “racist” to:
All of the above are things I was not only encouraged to do as a child, but was expected to do as a citizen of this nation.
Inevitably, there will be those who will read this post who, as opposed to taking the time to digest my comments in context, will instead choose to resort to such knee-jerk responses as, “But racism still exists!” (as if I don’t already know that).
Though this commentary is not about whether or not racism exists in America (or anywhere else), my response to that statement is, of course racism exists in America – Duh?! – and in every other nation on the face of the globe. During my lifetime, I probably have read more on the subject of slavery, particularly in America, than on any other subject with the exception of biblical theology.
Because there is a direct relationship between our innate condition as sinful human beings and the enslavement of one person who was created in the image of God by another person who, likewise, was created in the image of God.
It is time we realized that racism will continue to be a reality in America, and the world, as long as sin continues to be a reality in the hearts of people like you and me. In that regard, America is no different than any other nation on earth, because every nation is populated by sinners.
Why so many today want to isolate America as if it were an exclusively racist nation is beyond me. Take a census of any nation’s population and that is exactly the number of sinners you will find.
The only remedy for racism in America – or in any nation for that matter – is the gospel of Jesus Christ. For only the gospel of Christ can transform the sinful hearts of those who inhabit it (Exodus 22:21; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 1:16: 1 John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:7, 20).
Tell Them I’m Not Home
America has a tarnished history. Absolutely, it does. You will get no argument from me there.
Then, again, we should expect nothing less than that America would have a tarnished history considering that those who made that history were themselves tarnished by sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
With this reality in mind, any displays of “patriotism”, for lack of a better word, must be offset by the understanding that our true home is in heaven, the only place where perfect justice and righteousness dwell.
“And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of the Lord has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” – Revelation 21:23-27 (NASB)
That said, notwithstanding its history of slavery and other abuses of humanity that have occurred and that continue to occur (e.g. abortion), I consider myself blessed by God to live in this nation called America.
As imperfect as America is, and imperfect as it undoubtedly will remain, to have been born and raised in this nation – despite the material possessions my family never had or the opportunities of which we were never availed – is nothing short of an act of grace on the part of a sovereign God who, in His wisdom and omniscience, could have chosen otherwise for me (Acts 17:26).
If I had to do it all over again, there is nothing about my experience as a black American that I would change.
Not one thing.
As a Christian, I realize that I am expected to live in this nation as an alien and a stranger. As such, I fully understand and accept that this country owes me nothing.
Nothing at all.
Contrary to what the media stereotypically portrays, I am not some angry black man looking for evidence of racism wherever I can find it, just so I can use it against this nation for my own personal benefit or to promote a social justice agenda.
When considering the devastating effects of the fall of mankind into sin (Genesis 3), it stands to reason that situations of injustice, unfairness, and inequality will occur in a world and nation that continues to be populated by sinners. Nevertheless, there are many more instances in this nation when justice, fairness, and equality win out than not.
“Be glad that you are free. Free to change your mind. Free to go most anywhere, anytime. Be glad that your are free. There’s many a man who’s not. Be glad for what you have, baby, what you got.” – Prince, Free, from the album 1999.
So, yes, I will continue to fly my American flag, support our nation’s military, study the Constitution, quote the Founding Fathers, boldly declare that I am Christian, attend church on a regular basis, pray openly and audibly at public school events, and proudly recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
All of this with the full understanding that I am looking forward to a far better country than this one (Hebrews 11:16), where I will be free to celebrate the greatest independence of all, my independence from sin, and enjoy forever the bountiful wonders of eternal life that have been graciously afforded me by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Romans 5:6-8).
Looking back on those days as a child in Dixie Hills there was a lot that America provided me in the way of material prosperity and opportunity. But, you see, I’m okay with that because Dixie Hills is only where I was born. In Christ is where I was reborn.
Which means heaven is my home now.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This post first appeared here on Darrell B. Harrison's blog site and was reprinted with permission.