A couple of days ago, one of our church members dropped off a summative one page article entitled The Real Meaning of July 4th for my reading pleasure. This article summarizes what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. The statement below their pledge read “For the support of this declaration with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” As I was reading this article I was thinking of that NT question: How many of the 12 apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ died in their bed? Only one!
Five of the signers of the declaration were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army and another one had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds received or the hardships of war. By the time the war was finished, many of the signers had lost everything and were barely able to survive.
Brian McLaren posted a video for the July 4th holiday in which he says, “I would say there are few things more spiritually dangerous than to mix God and country in a way that turns the living God of all creation into the territorial deity of one nation, including our own. But I think there is few things more beautiful than people who because of their love for God and their love for this planet can also love their nation and their neighbors and try to be agents of Jesus and his kingdom wherever they’re placed.”
Sometimes the distance from the past makes the sacrifices blurry. Sometimes we need to be jolted in reality by walking through historic cemeteries, listening to soldiers, or learning about more recent revolutions. When I did my Ph.D. research in the city of Cluj, Romania, I traveled on the Boulevard of Revolution where only a few years before my trip, students who protested there gave their lives. The monuments were reminders for those who walk there every morning that there were young people who loved liberty more than their lives. In a conversation with one of the gentlemen from our church who fought over 3 years in World War II, he gently told us that those of us who are historians but have never been in war sometimes forget the fear that the soldiers experience when bullets start flying by their bodies. I also remember a Sunday when I visited the Republic of Moldavia. After the morning Worship Service, one young man invited me to come and see a revolution in the making. Even though I have relatives who fought and died in World War I, relatives who fought in the World War II, and uncles who served in the UN Forces in the Suez Canal, I decided to leave the country as quickly as I could that afternoon.
The ideals of those who signed the Declaration of Independence changed them and challenged them to give all that they could. In every decade, every century, there are brave men and women who are willing to give everything for their countries. We should honor such people and do our part so that their heroic stands will never be forgotten as we enjoy the benefits of their sacrifices.