NOTE: I’m back from summer vacation and want to thank Cynthia Yanof, Drake Holtry, Steven Longoria, Blake Atwood, and Chris Elkins for their excellent work in writing the Daily Article in my absence. I am grateful to partner with them in this ministry.
A plane landed without front wheels after gear failure. Flames ignited on contact. However, the pilot was able to bring the plane safely to a stop. All fifty-nine passengers and five crew members were unharmed.
This incident last Sunday in Peru underscores the intrinsic value of human beings. If the plane had been a test drone, its emergency landing would have generated little interest. But when a passenger plane nearly kills scores of humans, other humans instinctively take notice.
Meanwhile, the body of twenty-year-old missing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was discovered yesterday. An illegal immigrant has confessed to killing her. We grieve viscerally the tragic death of one so young.
In other news, Paul Manafort was found guilty yesterday on eight counts in his fraud trial. Whatever we think of the verdict, we should note that a system of jury trial by our peers reflects an intrinsic belief in the value of our peers.
“America’s birth certificate”
Each summer, my wife and I try to visit an area with a unique history. This year, we chose Philadelphia.
We visited the Liberty Bell and noted its iconic message from Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.” We stood inside Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were ratified.
We visited the home of Betsy Ross and museums dedicated to aspects of colonial history. We stood at the grave of Benjamin Franklin, one of the most brilliant of a generation of truly brilliant men and women.
But the most moving experience for me personally was one few tourists shared with us.
We made our way to Declaration House, where we climbed the stairs to the second floor. There we stood outside the parlor that Thomas Jefferson rented in 1776. It was here that he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
This iconic document has been called “America’s birth certificate.”
“The only nation founded on a creed”
Jefferson declared: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” As a result, he added, governments “are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This assertion may have been “self-evident” to Jefferson, but it was not to most of the world.
Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, one of the greatest historians of our day, states in The American Spirit: “Never, never anywhere, had there been a government instituted on the consent of the governed” (his italics).
In 1776, the peoples of the world were ruled by monarchs and dictators. Nowhere on earth was there a nation whose people ruled themselves. Nor was there a nation whose people believed they were each “created equal.”
G. K. Chesterton notes: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” That brief, five-word creed–“all men are created equal”–remains the bedrock principle of the nation Jefferson and his fellow patriots birthed.
Succeeding generations came to see the abiding and universal significance of Jefferson’s declaration. On the eve of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wrote: “All honor to Jefferson” for introducing “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.”
However, this “abstract truth” was not applied to “all men and all times.” Jefferson, like nearly all the founding fathers, was a slaveholder (John Adams was a notable exception). His claim that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed” was not applied to half the population until women secured the right to vote in 1920.
America’s founding creed remains only impartially applied even today.
Why our founding creed is so hard to implement
Imagine a culture in which all people believed in the equality of all people.
How would this belief affect the violence in Chicago, where fifty-eight people were shot last weekend? How would it affect the clergy abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church, atrocities so horrific as to defy belief?
Why is our founding creed so hard to implement? Perhaps because it’s so clearly untrue to our experience. We’re not all equal in resources, or gifts, or intelligence. We’re not all equal in education or experience.
We are all equal only to the degree that we are, as Jefferson noted, “created equal.” When we affirm the biblical assertion that “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27), only then can we see each other as our Creator sees us–children of one Father, sisters and brothers who are equal because we are equally loved.
Christians in a post-Christian culture
Jefferson’s creed was “self-evident” because it was declared at a time when the Judeo-Christian worldview formed the moral foundation of his society. What does it mean for Christians in a post-Christian culture?
It means that we treat people as our equals even (and especially) when we disagree with their beliefs and actions. It means that we treat people as our equals even (and especially) when they discriminate against us for the same reason.
It means that we earn the right to proclaim the gospel by incarnating the gospel: “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Beginning with the next person we meet today.