It’s Independence Day here in the US of A and I’m thinking about American history. Specifically, I’m wondering whether the United States can remain united in this current cultural climate. I’m pondering afresh a statement attributed to Ben Franklin at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
By “hang separately,” Franklin was referencing being hung for treason by the British autocracy. In this time of division, I’m wondering if our increasing separation into red and blue states, political factions, militaristic responses, and increasingly autocratic changes (most recently from the Supreme Court) will lead to us all hanging (or shooting) each other separately rather than listening to each other and working together.
The first Independence Day was not about individual freedoms. Instead, it was about people banding together as a group to set themselves free from autocratic rule. It was about recognizing that we need each other in order to create a different kind of country. Yes, I know the resulting Constitution was and is imperfect, and yes, we’ve improved upon it, and yes, we still have work to do. We also seem to be moving backward in some areas. Taking the long view (which I tend to do), I’m seeing this point as one of those “back” periods in “three steps forward, two steps back.”
Yes, this may seem pessimistic. I am pessimistic about this “American experiment.” It’s pretty clear that “the bloom is off the American rose.” Having conversations with those who do not think and act like we do used to be an opportunity for curiosity, learning, and broadening our understanding. Now, it is challenging and even frightening (especially when, like one of my neighbors, someone actually celebrates being hospitalized with COVID-19 as a badge of honor that proves their followership of our prior president).
These are scary times. Fortunately, we are not without resources. Leaders at our church have put together a webpage with resources on civil discourse called From Many, One. This seems an excellent response to our warped understanding of Independence Day. Please check it out, explore its resources, and consider how you are called to respond.
Somehow, we must learn to hang together.