By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard.

The 4th of July always brings out complicated feelings in me. 

I am grateful for the freedom I have, and the ease I have living in this land. And yet, I cannot feel my freedom without also remembering the genocide of those who first lived on these lands. 

And I cannot feel my freedom without realizing how much of what we have was built from unpaid labor- -by owning other human beings. 

I cannot enjoy my freedom to live my life in this land without acknowledging that so many others in this very same country do not have the same freedom I do to move safely and undisturbed.

I was deeply touched by an item from National Public Radio this week. They gathered several descendants of Fredrick Douglass to read his speech, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” It is a powerful reminder to us, 170 years later, that there is much work still to do to provide freedom for all in this country. 

Perhaps you watched this video too. I invite you to listen (or listen again) in the context of worship. Let’s listen together, and then I will conclude with some reflections:

Fredrick Douglass wrote this speech for the white people listening to him in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852. He said, “the freedom gained is yours.” Yes, that is the rub for me. I am so very thankful for the freedom that was gained in 1776 for male, white landowners, and for the freedom that has trickled down to me because of my circumstances of birth. But there were so many who were not freed in 1776, and so many of our neighbors in this land today are still not free in the way I am free. 

In the 1970s, the Combahee River Collective wrote, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since [Black women’s] freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”[1] 

In 2020, I would edit their statement to read, “If Black trans women were free, it would mean we would all be free, because that freedom would necessitate the destruction of all of the systems of oppression.”

Jesus came to destroy ALL of the systems of oppression. We are called to join Jesus in that mission to destroy all of the systems of oppression. And until all of our systems of oppression are destroyed, the 4th of July is both a joy and a sorrow in my heart.


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