Oh my Lord, that’s a good song. All of Hamilton is good, of course, but this song in particular is on my mind today, July 4. The day of our declaration that the American colonies would be independent of the British Empire. This song, sung from the perspective of King George III, could just as easily reflect the sentiments of the Emperor Nero in the age of Jesus. That’s right, I’m comparing the revolutionary movement of Jesus to the colonial uprising in these United States. (And I think you could easily add to this comparison the revolution led by Mohammed against the oligarchy in Mecca as well as the revolution Moses led against the imperial forces of Ramses the Great. Probably the Buddha’s revolution against the caste system too.)
The idea that the dignity of each person’s life demands that they have the freedom to exercise their own agency is not an idea unique to Christianity, but I think it is undeniable that the culture in which the founders of this country were steeped was thoroughly infused with the Christian tradition. The early Christian movement not only sought to oppose the injustice of the Roman Empire, but also to break the strangle-hold that complicit Temple authorities held over Jewish religious life. (Which, by the way, I think the Pharisees may have also been trying to break, but by a more traditionally Jewish route.) The revolutionaries of this country were by no small measure inspired by and acting in accord with the Christian movement of the first century.
Until, of course, they stopped. Many of the revolutionaries never even contemplated things like the abolition of slavery or the equal status of women under the law. Inclusion of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations would have blown their minds. When the common folk got restless and rose up against the American aristocracy, we got a new Constitution specifically designed to slow the revolution to a snail’s pace. But not to stop it.
So we find ourselves in a time when we can consider so many of the things that would not have been fathomable 240 years ago, much less 1986 (give or take a few years.) How far are we willing to allow the revolution to go in our generation? Who does our faith challenge us to include, whether we belong to the Jesus movement, the Mohammed movement, the Maccabean movement, or any other theistic or atheistic movement? Today while we give thanks for all that has brought us to this place and time, we might also ask what comes next.