We often count ourselves privileged, even blessed, to live in a nation where we have access to so many freedoms and rights. In comparison to other nations around the globe, we have the ability to pursue life, love, happiness and a host of other things that people in other countries wish they could enjoy. But what does it mean when our freedoms violate the wishes and the liberties of others? Is this freedom? Or is it slavery with a different face?
A few weeks ago, Clint Eastwood performed the Invisible Man skit at the RNC convention. Though some viewed the skit as strange, and maybe a little awkward, it was very clear that he purposed to attack President Obama’s otherness. Not his politics, not the way he governs the country, but his black skin. His African heritage. His otherness.
Like many others, I found myself put off by it. I felt like the skit was an effort to dehumanize and take value away from President Obama simply because he is different. And this is not okay. We can challenge his policies all day long, which I think is acceptable because we all come to this political animal with different lens – we are bound to disagree on a lot of things. But, we cannot write him or anybody else off because of the color of their skin. We cannot minimize someone’s humanity, their wishes, their needs, simply because they represent all that we are not. That is not exercising freedom at all; that is exercising hate.
To make matters even worse, there were some very disturbing occurrences of Obama chair lynchings in Virginia and Texas. The man who committed the offense in Texas even admitted that he had the nation’s African American president in mind when he did it. Though the freedom of speech protects the ones who did these awful things from legal consequences, is this not taking the notion of freedom too far? Where is the line? How can this be freedom when people of color (of which I am one) feel that their safety is compromised?
Further still, our endless pursuit of material things and wealth robs security and comfort from others around us. As we stock our closets, our garages, and our banks with more and more stuff, we limit other’s access to basic human necessities such as food and housing. Yet, our consumer driven economy gives us the freedom, and in fact, encourages us to consume more goods upon ourselves at any cost. And unfortunately the poor all too often pay that cost. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that 46.2 million people were living in poverty in 2011, and that women and children are disproportionately affected by this. At the same time, the incomes of the top 1% continue to grow. Still, they have that audacity to ask for a tax-break while 46.2 million struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads. Is this freedom? Or is this greed?
Freedom in the way that our nation envisions it, and in the way we live it out, is killing us. Like cancer, it is eating away at the core of our being, leaving more people marginalized and destitute in its path. We have to do something about it! And as people of faith, we have an obligation to do something about it including viewing freedom from a godly perspective. Just in looking through the Bible, it is clear that God calls us to use our freedom to set others free. Everything He gives us, is for the purpose of building others up, not tearing them down. He blesses us, so that we can be a blessing to others. He saves and rescues us, so that we can share the hope of salvation with others. Our words should give life, not take it. And what we have in our hands should be utilized to build the kingdom of God, instead of our own name.
I believe that we have a golden opportunity here. Right now, we are at a delicate moment in our nation’s history, and it will take the community of faith to navigate us through it successfully. But that means we have to use our freedoms, both God given and given by nature of our citizenship, for good. And we can! We do not have to buy in to what the culture around us is selling – we do not have to keep consuming, we do not have to say whatever we feel in the moment that we feel it, and we do not have to write others off simply because they do not look like us. No, rather, we can, with the help of God, live differently. We can, in fact, redefine what freedom looks like in our 21st century America.