The First Declaration of Independence

     I have always enjoyed reading and studying history. As a pastor, it's probably no surprise that I love Biblical history and everything associated with the nation of Israel, but I also have a very special place in my heart for American history. I firmly believe that the Lord had His providential hand on the founding of this nation, and that for almost 200 years, we were rightfully called a "Christian nation," or as Chaplain Louis Bowman coined, "one nation under God."

     During my family's recent vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia, we toured the noble and wonderfully restored House of Burgesses, the state's original legislature. I was surprised to learn, as we walked in the footsteps of those determined and fiercely independent statesmen, that Virginia ratified a document called the Virginia Declaration of Rights almost a month prior to the Continental Congress' Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. This document officially declared Virginia's commitment to the inherent rights of men, including the right to rebel against "inadequate" government, and very boldly placed limits on government as a servant to the people.

     I had always been taught, and rightfully so, that the signers of the July 4th Declaration were courageously putting their lives on the line. Had the world-class British regulars prevailed over the newly minted and mostly untested continental militia, those founding fathers would have founded nothing more than their own demise, swinging by the neck for treason. After all, before inking their "John Hancock" at the bottom of the Declaration, each man was a British citizen and in service to King George III. And yet there was a certain strength and esprit de corps realized by the 56 delegates, locked in step and conviction as thirteen colonies united to the cause of liberty and freedom. Though they had set themselves on an impossible task, they enjoyed the slim consolation that the American states had rallied cohesively and equally to the same cause. An entire continent would bear arms together against their European overlords.

     But Virginia, alone and unafraid, without the formal embrace of her twelve sisters, made her own declaration of independence from Britain on June 12, 1776. So then, if the signers from the Continental Congress, representing an entire nation, were leaping out onto a thin limb to revolt against the king, what might the signatures of the lone House of Burgesses be considered? Fool hearty idealism? Complete political madness? Rogue patriotism?

     Philadelphia's declaration was not yet a sure thing, and the Continental Congress may have delayed its formal decree of independence, even though shots had already been fired in the Revolutionary War. There was always the chance that the colonies' confederate cooperation might collapse and that individual legislatures would seek their own terms of peace with the crown. But Virginia's flinty men of courage defied the subtle protections afforded by inaction and anonymity, as they bravely led the nation by placing their names on the first document that openly declared independence from Great Britain. They stepped out from the camouflaged shadows of abeyance and announced to the world, "we have rights." As a unified and solitary regiment, they cried out with Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty, or give me death."

     Now I ask myself, if these men to whom we owe so much were willing to put everything on the line for their convictions of political and religious freedom, would I and others like me be willing to take the same consequential stand for Christ? Would I be willing to place my name on a document considered treasonous or illegal to remain obedient to Jesus? Would I step from the shadows of inaction and anonymity to remain true to my savior, even if it meant the risk of imprisonment and financial ruin?

     It doesn't require any peculiar or scholarly insight to see that our nation is headed very rapidly toward a civil rights code that will make certain tenants of the Christian faith illegal. In particular, how much longer before it becomes hate speech to speak out against the sin of homosexuality? And when it does become formally against the law to do so, how many pastors will obey the Lord over the conventions of man? And how many of my friends and fellow Christians will stand firm? Or will the spiritual Patrick Henrys of the church be cast aside from the greater body, summarily disowned as trouble makers and fringe thinkers?

     Sadly, its coming to a legislature and a court room near you, as representatives and judges push the envelope of sanity for ever increasing tolerance and diversity. We will all be forced to make our choice. Christianity was easy when everyone laced their leather shoes and trotted off to their neighborhood's denominational church, but those days are gone. Secular humanism is now the imperialist monarch reigning over these United States, and like any king, it demands absolute obeisance. Let us who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, like the men of Colonial Virginia, be ready to sign our names and our good fortunes to a declaration of spiritual independence from this world, as we bow to King Jesus, and to Him alone.