On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia adopted the Declaration of Independence. Every July 4th, people throughout the United States remember the founding of this nation with parades and cookouts and fireworks.
When Thomas Jefferson, whose summer home is just over in the next county from which I live, authored the Declaration, he penned some of the most famous words in American history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unfortunately, American history is a tale of how these words were not worth the paper on which they were written: Native Americans could be taken from their land, by force—and death, if necessary; Africans could be kept as property and beaten if they dared disobey their masters; women were little more than property and can seldom earn the same amount for doing the same work as a male counterpart; Japanese Americans could be sent to internment camps for the duration of World War II; Hispanics are viewed with suspicion; the unborn can be needlessly murdered in their mother’s womb; and many other examples could be given.
Long before Mr. Jefferson put his famous words to parchment, the Creator endowed men with his very image: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). Man did not evolve from some pre-organic goo, but God made man with value for, “in the image of God he created him.” The image of God was not lost in the Fall, for after the Deluge, God told Noah, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). Why did God condone—even command—capital punishment? Man was made in the image of God.
In the New Testament, we learn that God, through the sacrifice of his Son, has made his people one. Jesus “himself is our peace, who has made us [Jew and Gentile] both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). When we are baptized into Christ, we become one—all of the ethnic and racial and socioeconomic divisions are washed away; we are one in Christ. As the four living creatures and twenty-four elders praise the Lamb who is worthy to open the scroll, they proclaim: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). The people of God come from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”
The people of God must rise about the artificial divisions this world has created. We dare not view someone from another nation as less than we. We dare not view someone from different socioeconomic strata as less than we. We dare not view someone whose skin is darker or lighter than ours as less than we. We dare not view someone involved in a particular sin as less than we (we are, after all, all sinners).
Make a commitment today to treat all people with dignity and respect, for “all men are created equal .”