“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) 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.” These were the words that still inspire us from the Declaration of Independence. This document is 242 years old this month.
Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of what became the Christian Church, the Church of Christ (non-instrumental), and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was an admirer of Jefferson. One of the traditions of the college he started, Bethany College, was to read the Declaration on the Fourth of July which was also the day of graduation during his lifetime. (I am grateful that graduation was relocated to Memorial Day weekend.)
We are the only mainline denomination to be founded in the United States. As we celebrate the Fourth this month, let us reflect on how much of this document is reflected in the practices and structure of the Disciples.
We ordained the first woman as clergy in the late 1800’s. We ordained African Americans before that. We expect the congregation to be self-governing. We encouraged education of all people, including the members of the church as all of us are to be able to study and read Scripture, not just the clergy. Our clergy are ordained elders who preach and as such hold no more authority than any of the elders of the congregation. This is reflected in our General Assemblies where every congregation gets 2 congregational representatives plus an additional representative for every 100 additional members. If a church has 200 members they get 3 votes and so on.
We, as Disciples should cherish this understanding that our church reflects the power of equality for all people in the nation and in the church. Yes, we have historically bent and broken this covenant of equality, however, we can repent and recall that all of us have been created in the image of God and that all of us, regardless of societal, ethnic, racial, and creedal distinctions, are brothers and sisters with Jesus.
May your Fourth be blessed and may you be a blessing to the people around you.