Dear Friends in Christ—
Grace Church marks every major feast day on the Episcopal Church calendar. One of those
feasts comes on Monday: July 4, Independence Day. We’ll celebrate with a Eucharist and
patriotic hymns at 10:00 a.m.
But: what exactly are we marking when we celebrate this feast?
It often surprises people to know that Independence Day is a feast day, a religious holiday as
well as a civic one. Our denomination’s connections with the state run deep. At the founding
of the Church of England, Henry VIII proclaimed himself to be “defender of the faith” and head
of the new church. After the American Revolution, the newly-formed Episcopal church became
independent of the crown and democracy alike. But the Episcopal Church maintained an
understanding of itself as having a mission in tandem with the state—not opposed to it.
Recent years and, indeed, days (with recent Supreme Court decisions) prompt us to think about
what the relationship between church and state actually is in this country—and what it should be.
We have seen the disturbing rise of white Christian nationalism in recent years. Some churches
align Jesus Christ with a retrograde understanding of our society. White supremacy and
authoritarian government are presented as Jesus’s will.
We all need to be clear that this is not Christianity. We need to be clear in our own minds, and
we need to be clear to the rest of society. We cannot let our faith be co-opted by bigotry. In
1934, theologians in Germany (including Karl Barth) wrote the Barmen Declaration, which
asserted God—not the state—as the source of salvation. I commend it to you as reading for this time.
We need to reject this false doctrine. And we need to be clear what good God might want to
bring from our democracy. The merits of our state can be measured against the gospel. Do we
lift up the lowly? Do we feed the hungry? Do we heal what is broken? Do we include the outcast?
I encourage you to celebrate this feast day with the liturgy in our nave. But I also encourage
you to celebrate it in your living: Read the news. Speak out where there is error. Raise your
voice for those who might be silenced. Insist on true freedom. And never stop working for justice.
Yours in Christ,