Monday, July 2, 2012

Freedom and Faith

Because Wednesday is the 4th of July, yesterday's testimony meeting mixed the usual expressions of faith and gratitude for God with expressions of gratitude for our country and our freedom. A brother who had lived in countries under military rule spoke briefly. A sister mentioned her specific gratitude for the families of those on military tours or between military tours right now. Another sister said something about the country's early years and her later immigrant ancestors.

And then a boy, probably about nine years old, got up and bore his testimony about how Jesus died for our freedoms.

I think he was just confused...and who can blame him on the week when George Washington keeps coming up in testimonies that end in Jesus' name?  But hearing our most sacred story confused with the much less significant story of the American revolution did make me wonder whether we should be more careful not to mix patriotism and piety quite so casually--even in July--if only for the sake of our children.

I'm grateful for his strange little testimony, though, because it got my mind and heart going. When the next testimony was all about our American freedoms, I found myself thinking about many of the things people have done with those freedoms and feeling really sad. Because I realized: Jesus dies for our freedoms all the time. But not the way a revolutionary dies to make freedom possible. No: Jesus dies to carry the burden of the ways we use our freedoms to make a mess of our lives and the lives of others.

I am certainly grateful to live in society that values freedom--but I'm not sure how much of a value freedom has in and of itself. After all, our culture of freedom has led to widespread drug use and high rates of divorce as well as to healthy religious diversity and genuinely constructive innovations. Our Constitution protects the willful distortions of pornography as surely as it protects the speaking of truth.

So just as the bishop was about to stand up and close the meeting, I stepped up to bear my testimony that I'm grateful to live in a free country--but still more grateful for a God who guides me as I exercise that freedom. And to testify that in a culture that says I should do what I want, I'm grateful for covenants that bind me to what's important and right.

So on this 4th of July, I'll be thinking about the tragedies as well as triumphs of a nation built on the slippery notion of freedom.

And I'll be praying for my country,
where a twentieth of the world's population consumes a fourth of the world's energy,
where people pursuing their own kind of happiness fuel other countries' narco-wars,
where parents abandon children to go off in search of themselves,
where we try to buy meaning on the marketplace instead of reaching it in our relationships.
Yes, I'll be praying that we can heal our two-edged freedom by finally learning restraint.


  1. Thanks for this, James. I actually missed testimony meeting this week, being instead in the NICU with my daughter and grandson. My daughter (Nancy)mentioned how happy she was to miss the 4th of July testimonies, especially since we are dual citizens and it actually was Canada Day yesterday--and I realized that I was glad to miss it, too, because the confusion between patriotism and testimony can make some of us feel a bit testy.

  2. I love how you eloquently captured the random and frustrated feelings I had in sacrament yesterday. I was disturbed by the little boy's testimony, although I admired his desire to bear his testimony of Christ, and I sympathized as he searched for words. I frequently thank God for the luxurious shelter I have, bed sheets, an oven, and easy access to an indecently large selection of foodstuffs, but I always wonder, with a bit of dismay and guilt, why I wound up in a country and circumstance where all of this available to me when so many others have so much less. I usually assume it is because the Lord knows my testimony can't survive lack of sanitation and large spiders.

  3. I loved this post. Thank you for bringing it all in to perspective.

  4. I think the true church and America goes hand in hand. This Nation was created for the Restoration of the Gospel. We fly American flags at our churches and temples. We are a church who solutes our flag,(others do not) who pray for our soldiers in the temple, who know this:

    And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. Section 101: 80

    The revolutionary soldiers redeemed the land by the shedding of their blood. Likewise the Savior, also redeemed us with his blood.

    The word 'liberty' is used 43 times in the BOM alone.

    "the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake." Alma 46:10

    Also Alma 61:21 stand fast in that liberty wherewith God hath made them free.

    Its is only because of God that we have liberty. He is the author of it.

    While around the world near July 4th we will not hear testimonies of about our land of Jesus. All nations that have have FREEDOM of religion should be thankful for the Liberty that comes straight from God.

    Happy Birthday America! May the Lord bless you as we choose righteousness!

    And for more confirmation of what I am saying please read this:

    and there are other talks about the constitution in the church magazines by the same author: Ezra Taft Benson.

    1. Religious freedom is awesome. And I am thankful for that. And I am thankful for freedom of speech even though it means that America is (by far) the world's top producer of pornography.

      I just think that there are some Americans who are more proud of their freedom than of their responsibility. That's just an unfortunate part of our culture.

      The Book of Mormon talks about that, too, and it predicts some hard future times for Gentiles who came into this land, thought it was exclusively there and abused the descendants of Lehi, got rich and proud and arrogant, etc.

      I've read tributes from Latter-day apostles and prophets to this country and especially its Constitution. I've also read some harsh words from Latter-day apostles and prophets for this country, including predictions of its future collapse.

      So I love America. But I also mourn for it. And I know that God is better (and far more constant!) than America is.

    2. I've always found our deep patriotism in the church to be a curiosity, especially on my mission in Germany. I often wondered how German members or investigators felt about the idea that America is a "choice land" of freedom. Although it's safe to say that the church probably could not have been started anywhere else in the 1800s, the concept could likely be regarded as a reflection of the American know-it-all attitude. "You're not wanted in Europe!" Exclaimed one man rather harshly at a street display. I'm sure he would have thought the idea was preposterous.

      It's around this time that I have to try to remember that neither freedom nor the restored Gospel are exclusive to the United States.

  5. Thank you so much for this post, James.

    Being a Mexican full-time missionary serving in the US, I never got over the Star Sprangled Banner being sung during Sacrament meeting (which should emphasize Jesus Christ and the Atoment), around the 4th of July.

    Especially given the fact that our own Mexican political culture is given on an emphasis of separation of State and Church, since the 19th Century.

    As a side note, I'm a huge fan of your blog. Keep them coming

  6. I've always had mixed feelings about patriotism in general. Growing up in a liberal NH town, I never once said the pledge of allegiance at school, and the practice always makes me uncomfortable as a result. As a kid, I would mumble that it seemed like idolatry, which never went over too well with my camp counselors.

    The only time I've felt good about the pledge of allegiance was when I went to the D-Day beaches in Normandy. I went there on D-Day, and so there was a special service. And for once, the patriotic ceremonies all felt like they were sincerely about honoring the sacrifices of people who gave their lives in the hope of protecting others. There was no sense of "We're Number One!!" It was a somber ceremony, and there were nearly as many French people as there were Americans. But we were surrounded by the grave markers of the insane number of American soldiers who died while storming those cliffs.

    You'll never hear me say I'm proud to be an American, because I don't see how I can be proud of an accomplishment that's just an accident of birth. But I'm certainly grateful.

    1. That is a beautiful sentiment, Emily. We don't have to be proud to feel deeply connected and moved by the shared sacrifices of our collective history.

      I, too, feel some ambivalence about American pride, but I feel honored to take part in a legacy of America that includes many exemplary moments of great vision and sacrifice.

  7. Becky Rose- the Book of Mormon says that America is a Land of Promise, but it says that those promises are conditional upon the people's righteousness. Can you honestly say that America is becoming a more righteous nation? MM- I really appreciate this post as someone who is half Canadian. my professor for Latin American humanities at BYU said that he felt like the promises of a choice land applied to all of America, not just the US. I have always loved that.



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