On a recent family excursion to Boston we explored the famed “Freedom Trail”. This is a 2.5 mile path that meanders through downtown Boston, passing by 16 historic locations significant in the nation’s colonial journey toward independence and freedom. It’s an interesting walk that combines the preserved markers of history in the middle of a contemporary urban center that is filled with the sights and sounds of progress. One particular visual that I found noteworthy was an old burying ground adorned with weathered markers and headstones, some of which were located flat against the foundation of a modern office building. The office building’s windows overlook the resting place of revolutionary heroes, buried just feet beyond. Such is the juxtaposition of contemporary life in the midst of history.
This week we celebrate the nation’s independence. While the anniversary of that date is marked on the calendar as July 4, the journey toward such freedom was, and is, much longer and arduous than one day or season. Much as a stroll down the Freedom Trail provides a reminder of freedom’s costs, so the upkeep of freedom is an ongoing effort. We were all recently reminded of this on the dark day of January 6, 2021 when attempts were made to overthrow a fair and free election related to the highest office in the land.
As an American Baptist I have long cherished the freedoms we claim through our faith heritage. Among these are the “four fragile freedoms” Walter Shurden reviews in his book The Baptist Identity.* These four freedoms include: Bible freedom – the freedom to read, study and obey Scripture with the best scholarly tools available; Soul freedom – the right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without imposition of creed, interference of clergy, or intervention of government; Church freedom – the freedom of the local church to determine both its membership and leadership, order its worship, and recognize those called to ministry from within its body, while freely entering into partnership with others in mission; and Religious freedom – the freedom of, for and from religion, including the standard of the separation of church and state.
Just as the city of Boston works to preserve the historic markers of freedom that adorn it’s Freedom Trail, so we of a free faith must work to assure our celebrated faith freedoms continue to be known and lived. Beware of those who suggest a compromise or question what has been discerned and defended over generations. Often the motive behind such affronts toward these freedoms is grounded in power and politics, not the good of the people or preservation of moral foundations.
I look forward to the celebration of our nation’s freedom this Independence Day. I anticipate watching some fireworks light up the sky, and gathering with family for a picnic meal. Perhaps there will be a patriotic movie or article to enjoy. I plan to continue working my way through a biography of Benjamin Franklin. Should a flag pass by, I’ll don my cap and stand in respect. I’m grateful for the freedoms we have in America and the efforts of those who’ve served to protect them (including the service of my own father and father-in-law.)
Then, come Sunday, I will be leading and gathering freely in worship with siblings in Christ, giving thanks for the freedoms of faith we know, cherish and are compelled to teach and preserve. Such are the musings of one who’s walked the Freedom Trail in Boston and who attempts to walk with Jesus.
*The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter B. Shurden, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1993.