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Why the Fourth of July matters to Presbyterians

The rights of people matter. Following recent Supreme Court decisions, the PC(USA)’s advocacy director reminds us why

by Jimmie Hawkins | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Tom Dahm via Unsplash

For many Americans, the Fourth of July is important as it helps to define our national identity. For Presbyterians, Independence Day holds a special place in our collective consciousness.

Presbyterians played a pivotal role in the founding and formation of this nation. In “Presbyterians: Their History and Beliefs,” Dr. Walter L. Lingle wrote, “Presbyterians had a large share in the movements which lead up to the Declaration of Independence and a large share in the actual conduct of the Revolutionary War which followed. They also had a large part, directly and indirectly, in shaping the Constitution of United States.”

For us, the fourth of July is more than merely a celebration of American history. July 4 symbolizes that the rights of people matter. It is our commitment to our children that this nation can become a “more perfect Union” by the establishment of “Justice, Domestic Tranquility, common defense, (and by promoting the) general Welfare.”

That governance should not be invested in the hands of a few, but in the hands of the many for the benefit of all. It is a promise that justice and equality are the measurements of our character. That e pluribus unum, “out of many one,” is more than just a slogan. It connects us through a covenantal journey as a nation as to what we can become and what we can achieve as a united people. We can be a nation of many parts, yet one in equality and purpose.

This Fourth of July has confronted us with the realization that the promise is not only unfulfilled but is being undermined. Three recent rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOUS) have had a devastating effect on the national declaration that America treats its citizens equally and fairly — all in the name of a false belief that America has achieved its stated goal of being a prejudice-free and equitable country.

In one week, the court eliminated affirmative action as a tool utilized for college admissions. It ruled that a Colorado law was unconstitutional when it mandated equal treatment for same-sex couples. With the same gavel it ended President Joe Biden’s forgiveness of student college loans. Compounding this was the fact that almost to the day a year ago, the high court overturned the right to an abortion with the Dobbs decision. Added insult is engendered by the fact that these decisions were presented just a few days before the national celebration of the Fourth.

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins

As Presbyterians, and as people of faith who are committed to our national creeds, we are outraged by the direction of the nation as exemplified in these rulings. Our public policy positions reflected opposition to these decisions long before they were rendered.  For decades, the Church has posted employment policies endorsing affirmative action: “It is the policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to provide equal employment opportunity/affirmative action for all qualified persons …” The PC(USA) has promoted loan forgiveness through the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. In 2014, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, while serving as director of the Office of Public Witness, denounced the original Hobby Lobby decision that gave sanction to discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community.

It is without question that the United States of America has benefited from the opportunities affirmative action has provided to thousands of gifted Black and brown citizens who have made tremendous contributions to American society. The elimination of college debt would grant economic and emotional relief for investments in homes and access to other pathways for a better life. All members of a given community should be able to take advantage of businesses of their choosing that provide services to the general public.

Our call as Presbyterians is that our love for America compels our desire that it be a nation that continues to mature into its full potential. At times such as this, we raise our collective voices to declare publicly the word of God as it informs our consciousness and impacts our decisions. We call upon Congress to act. We ask that the President do all that he can to grant college debt forgiveness. That business owners professing faith in a God of unconditional love provide unlimited use of their products and services for everyone. We pray for creative remedies that will enable students to be able to study at colleges and universities where their minds will allow them to succeed. People don’t want pity — just a chance.

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins is the PC(USA)’s advocacy director, overseeing the efforts of the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York City.

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