It is the Fourth of July, the day our nation sets aside to remember the birth of our freedom in 1776. The celebration has always been associated with the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. We often forget this document is primarily a long list of reasons why we were separating ourselves from the British Empire. We do remember the foundation for those reasons, the belief that governments derives its powers from the people who are governed, that government is based on certain truths from God such as the equality of all people and to guarantee certain rights such as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and finally if government does not do this the people can change their government.
Over the years there has been many challenges to this freedom. As we all know presently that involves terrorism. This problem probably will never leave us. It results from the dark side of technology, the power given to one person to destroy people and property. This forces us to debate how much freedom give up for security. How much freedom we can afford. Can we extend to just anyone.
The Church certainly does not an answer. No one does. We are still in the midst of the debate. But the Church can call the government to remember her principles. So today I am going to tell my Liberty Bell story. It took place many, many years ago as I found myself standing on the Liberty Bell Plaza listening to a Park Service interpreter explain its background. My mind went back events three years that brought me here.
At that time my wife bought a 15-year-old migrant young man to live with us. Those in the migrant stream are usually illegal immigrants attempting to enjoy the freedom we do. Over the years it has moved from American Blacks to Puerto Ricans to Haitians. One day, Faith Ann brought home a 16 year-old Haitian boy who had been abandoned by his father. He had helped her at various times and she was worried if left alone the courts would soon have him in jail.
So Emmanuel Marceuse lived with us many years. It did not seem he could ever become a citizen because he had arrived illegally in a small boat in 1980. He was accompanying his father who smuggled Haitians into Florida until the coast guard caught him and detained his small boat. However, politics led to a bill that granted amnesty to Cubans and Haitians who came within a short time period. And he qualified. Of course, a great deal of paper work and qualifications had to take place before amnesty would be granted. You had to prove you arrived in the time period and had been a model citizen.
At any rate, we went through the procedure that took almost a year. Finally we had an appointment at the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia for a final review. We had heard all sorts of horror stories from other friends who had sought amnesty, tales about sitting for days and never being called, tales about going through the procedure only to be rejected in the end.
So we arrived for a 9 am appointment with lots of food and reading matter. The plan was to stay until we were called. We could not risk being out of the room even to eat. I wore my clerical collar. Instructions were that I would not be allowed to go back beyond the wall with him so if it seemed he was going to be denied he should yell and make a fuss and I would try to force my way back using my collar ar protection.
Well, we opened our books and began our wait. Lo and behold at exactly 9 am a young man came out and called for Emmanuel Marceuse. We stood. I asked if I could accompany him. “Of course. You must be in trouble if the Father has to come with you.” The man appeared to be Jewish. “No you have it wrong. He is my father.” “Then I have to be careful.”
He first finger printed Emmanuel and then took us to a small office. “Do you have any other papers?” “No, we thought we had all we needed”. “You do. But people come with all sorts of things as marriage license and such. I take time to read them, since they went to the trouble.”
With that he picked up a stamp and brought it down on a paper. “What was that?” Emmanuel asked. “I just granted you amnesty and made it retroactive to the time you arrived on our shores.” “What does that mean?” “You can apply for citizenship right away.”
As we stood by the liberty bell, I had a new appreciation for our nation. I am not sure any other nation would have allowed this. Over the years, everyone I talked to agreed.
The interpreter was reading the inscriptions from Leviticus 25:10. “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This quote from the Bible proclaimed the freedom of the Jubilee Year when the Hebrews were to free all slaves, forgive all debts and release people from the messes we impose on each other. They were to grant this liberty remembering from where they came. They had once been slaves in Egypt, and God had granted them freedom. So now they are to be a blessing to other nations of the world and grant them freedom.
Today our politicians are debating what to do with immigrants. I am not sure how to handle the questions of the balance between security and freedom. I am sure we should tackle the questions involved by first remembering who we are. Most of us come from fore bearers who came to our shores poor, seeking the opportunity to feed their families. They left the rigid political structures of Europe, hoping to find freedom and opportunity. And I am sure the Church is called to care for all those seeking a better life for their families.. Almost 2000 years ago Diognetus claimed that Christians are to the world as the soul is to the body. They perform this function by working to care for all people. When that seems difficult we should remember the second lesson: second lesson: “Bear one another’s burdens and in this way you shall fulfill the law of Christ. Do not grow weary in doing what is right (Galatians 6: 1-6, 7-16).”