Word from the Center: Friday, December 28, 2018
Welcome to “Word from The Center” FRIDAY, a Two-Kingdom, practical reflection on the issues of the day from the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s topic/issue….
The Bladensburg Memorial, Liberty, and a Happy New Year!
This weekend, many will come from all over the country to New York city to watch the ball drop. People will be freely gathering and even packing Times Square to sing, to celebrate, and even to pray for the old to pass away and the new to come. Yvette and I lived in New York the latter part of the 1990’s and we can attest to the energy of the city from Christmas, to New Year’s Eve, and to New Year’s Day. It was a place of challenges and opportunities, and it also had the vitality necessary to take on those issues freely, day after day.
This is the week that we look back so that we can boldly look forward. At times like this then, it is important to remember that the freedoms that make days like December 31st possible always have a price. Many today are happy to celebrate our freedoms. But too many think that our freedoms come only by protest. In reality, they come more often by sacrifice. For example, our parents sacrificed so that many of us could be “free” to pursue our dreams. Many of them worked to pay for school, sacrificing leisure and free time to give usan education so that we could put our freedoms to good use for ourselves and others. And, as the Bladensburg monument reminds us, thousands of our citizens have paid the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives so that we might be religiously, politically, socially, and economically FREE! During this week, as we look back and look forward, it’s important to know the “why,” not just the “how,” of those who gave so much so that we might be free. And that’s why the attack on the Bladensburg monument is so insidious.
The Bladensburg monument is about the sacrifice of 49 boys of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and the faith and love of the community which remembers them. The families memorialized them with these words:
Educated or not, white or black, rich or poor, their diverse backgrounds mattered little as they died on foreign soil in the final months of the “war to end all wars.” Their bodies were interred under small grave makers, including crosses, in cemeteries far too distant for their families to ever visit.
In 1925, on PRIVATE PROPERTY, the Bladensburg memorial cross, designed by the Gold Star mothers of the community, was erected to honor the courage, the valor, and the service of those in their community who died in World War 1. Many decades later, the government confiscated the land to erect a highway. Now that the land is government owned, an atheistic-humanist group wants the cross dismantled because it violates their conscience. The evacuation of the religious nature of our history, not the federal establishment of religion, is what the Bladensburg controversy is all about.
This whitewashing of history should trouble all of us, whether we are religious or not. The memorial was meant to honor the valor of the men who sacrificed their lives. Its cross-like form may indeed have been intended to honor their faith and their faith-motivation to fight for the freedoms of others thousands of miles away. So, why is that not “publicly permissible?” Even if our country was not explicitly founded on faith, it surely was founded on the Judeo-Christian principles of the Scriptures that undergird that faith. And, while the government was not to favor one brand of Christianity over another, it surely would not deny the positive and even foundational influences that such a faith had on America’s notions of freedom, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This monument was originally a community’s testimony to the ultimate sacrifice of their neighbors and friends; it was a snapshot in time, not only about what they did, but how and why they did it. Therefore, the protest against this memorial is a desire to eradicate the fullness of that history, posed insincerely under the guise of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
On this week before the dawning of a New Year, then, it would be good for American citizens, Christians and non, to pause during their celebrations and realize the unique contribution that the Christian faith has made to liberty and life in these United States. And it would be good to remember that the First Amendment was designed to protect religious liberty and its free exercise as a fundamental foundation for liberty, not to silence it or eradicate it from history or the public square of our culture. It’s good to remember this week why Bladensburg, liberty, and a Happy New Year do indeed belong together.