Every year, about this time, I look forward to parades, corn on the cob, matching flag T-shirts (because, yeah, I’m that girl), and fireworks displays. They’re everything that’s great about the Fourth of July.
But lately, my thoughts have turned to deeper questions about freedom and what it means to be a person of faith in America today.
America has a rich faith tradition. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were men “with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” Those early patriots felt so strongly about the right to choose a faith that it became the first item addressed in the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” They wanted to make sure all Americans were free to choose their faith.
But that tradition started long before those important documents were signed. My own family’s faith tradition in America dates back to the Mayflower. My thirteenth great grandfather Francis Cooke, along with his young son John, sailed to America in 1620 to practice their chosen faith, free from government force. His wife Hester, my grandmother, brought the rest of the family over from Holland in 1623 to begin a new legacy of faith.
Fast forward a few generations. In the mid-1830s, my fourth great grandfather Anson Call embraced a new faith, one unpopular with the masses. The test was on. Would Americans, those who had so recently fought for the freedoms we now enjoy, really live up to the promise? Some, unfortunately, did not, persecuting him and many others for their faith. Thankfully, the struggle didn’t last forever, and he built a life in a new part of America where his faith flourished.
In my own lifetime, I have seen, at least through a window, what it looks like to be denied the freedom of faith. When I was seventeen I visited Germany a few short months after the Berlin Wall came down. Even with my limited teenage American perspective, I still recognized the contrast between my world and the crumbling rubble, stark, gray buildings, and devastation of East Berlin. Ironically, I was in Germany on the Fourth of July that year, experiencing a deep desire to celebrate my homeland and freedom. Maybe the Wall reinforced that longing.
Today we live in a country with varied faith traditions. We don’t always agree on what faith should look like or if it’s even necessary, but we should rejoice in the fact that we are free to choose that for ourselves. And we should continue to fight for that freedom, even when—perhaps especially when—we don’t agree. Your right to faith guarantees mine.
So, this year, enjoy your corn on the cob, sweat it out at the parade, and stand in awe of the fireworks. But remember to keep the faith—whatever that looks like to you.
It’s what our Founding Fathers envisioned. It’s what people of faith value. It’s what makes America great!
Tiffany Tolman lives, loves, writes, reads, and plays through the window of faith. And that makes all the difference. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.