"Where liberty dwells,
there is my country."
-- Benjamin Franklin
Lady Liberty stands in New York Harbor to both welcome the travelers, the visitors and the homeward bound, and to show forth to all the world what we believe in. She's called "Liberty Enlightening the World", and her torch shines forth as a beacon to those arriving, and those still journeying, promising them hope. She's crowned with a diadem of seven spikes, representing the seven oceans of the world, across which her pilgrims travel to reach her, and she carries a plaque with the date July 4, 1776 written on it - the date when our Republic took its first full breath of life. Below her is a pediment with the invitation - nay, the command - "Bring me your tired, your poor..."
Liberty stands, stern and unyielding, the guardian of what we in this country have always held most dear.
A church in Memphis Tennessee - with the attractive name of World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church - has turned the Lady into a Jesus freak.
Into a travesty.
She holds, not a torch to light the darkness, but a cross. Her crown is emblazoned with the name Jehovah. She carries the Ten Commandments, and beneath her there they are again.
And she's crying.
Well she might be, poor Liberty, dragooned into the service of a religiosity that no longer knows what it means, that confuses patriotism with religion, and seeks to show that America belongs to Jesus. This evil twin of Liberty doesn't want to welcome, but to dominate. And although Jesus echoed some of her concerns, it's clear that many of his followers don't.
Liberty is much older than Jesus. A statue was erected to her on the Aventine hill during the Second Punic War, which was more than two centuries before he was born.
Christian liberty, so called, is not the same thing. It is, according to Bible studies, called "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21) but consists of being free from spiritual burdens:
- The law
Romans 7:6; 8:2
- The curse of the law
- The fear of death
- Bondage of man
1 Corinthians 9:19
- Jewish ordinances
Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:20
(listing and references from crosswalk.com)
After all, Jesus is Lord - and that is a political term. Lord = "one having power and authority over others : a ruler by hereditary right or preeminence to whom service and obedience are due," or "a master of servants" ("lord." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (3 Jul. 2006). It's the Kingdom of Heaven, after all, not the Republic of Heaven. God is "King of Kings" and "Lord of Lords" and Jesus is the "Prince" of Peace...
Christians are always told to yield to those set in authority over them - only worshipping false gods is forbidden them. Occasionally some rebellious sect rises up (think of the Puritans) but even they set someone up in authority over the people to replace the one they overthrow. Political liberty is simply not a Christian concept.
It's an American concept though - nurtured by the great thinkers of the Enlightenment and transformed from a radical idea into a political reality by the Founders, liberty is, in fact, the quintessential American concept. It's inseparable from that other great American concept: the separation of Church and State. Liberty doesn't care what god you worship, as long as you accept Her. And establishing one church over another puts some people over others, and that's not good for Church or State.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Baptists of Danbury (who were a religious minority in Connecticut and who had written to him to complain that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature - as "favors granted.") :
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state.Take another look at the travesty in Memphis. There's no separation there: she's ready to beat other religions over the head with that cross, and to shove her tablet of religious laws into the face of anyone who dares to disagree. She's draped in Christianity.
She might as well continue to wear that veil to hide her shame.
Church members said the mixture of the statue and Christian symbols represent "America belonging to God through Jesus Christ."
The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian doctrine.There's no denying most Americans are Christians. But that's beside the point - well and truly beside the point. The point is that America is a "nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Christians may choose to subordinate themselves in a servant/Lord / ruled/ruler relationship with their god, just as Muslims submit to theirs, but Americans are free. "We the people" are our own rulers.
Merging Liberty with Christianity is not merely (merely, I say!) crappy civics, it's crappy theology. But this Memphis horror isn't Liberty. Liberty welcomes all, not just the elect.
Here's what the Lady who stands in New York Harbor says to the world:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Let's not change that message for the narrow-minded, religious dogma exemplified by the Travesty in Memphis.
Lady Liberty, Goddess of America: long may you lift your lamp against the darkness.
[amended 5 July to correct which president approved the Treaty of Tripoli]