Sparklers and cookouts and equality for all — how I love the Fourth of July.
And I love this country. But as we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, I’m reflecting on its iconic passage:
“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.”
Right now we’re living what children will one day read about in history books: We saw the aftermath of a terrorist opening fire in a Charleston AME church, killing nine people. Several more churches were then set on fire. We debated the Confederate flag and the systemic racism it represents while waving pride flags everywhere as the Supreme Court recognized the LGBTQ community as equal under the Constitution and entitled to marriage.
Some are arguing that marriage equality is a danger to their religious liberty. No one is making them change their beliefs. If you don’t believe in same-sex marriage, don’t be in one. However, what you believe as an individual and enact for your personal life should not hurt others or bar them from their constitutional rights.
On vacation last week, as I walked on the beach with my brilliant brother-in-law, we talked about race and sexual orientation in America. He’s a pastor, white and raised by a Republican family in North Carolina. In so many ways, we are polar opposites. But there’s no one else I’d rather call brother. This is my family. Over holidays, birthdays and summer vacations, we are united. We laugh and love and break bread together.
But talking politics? We don’t do that.
Until now. As the sun beat on our faces and the ocean washed against our feet, he told me that the hate that’s eating our country is unacceptable. He was working through a way to address racial prejudice and the Charleston shooting in his largely white congregation.
“I’ll never know what it’s like to be black in America, to be singled out and identified as black,” he told me. “I’ll never know what it’s like for you, to be both black and white, and your experiences and your struggle. But I know you go through a lot that is unfair.”
It meant a lot. I could see him trying to figure out a way to bring people together, to help them see that we are all humans, not to be feared and hated because of the color of our skin. And because of the Supreme Court case, we also talked marriage equality. While he can’t yet fathom marrying a same-sex couple, he agreed that they should have the right.
I pointed out to him that the same Bible verses and beliefs that people use to shame gay marriage are the very ones they once used to prevent interracial relationships. And if we allowed those laws to live, I would have never been born.
He looked at me, lovingly. My big brother clearly hadn’t thought about it that way. But despite our differences on the subject I think he is beginning to understand my passion.
We can’t pick and choose who gets access to constitutional rights in America. We can be happy that marriage equality has been won, but we still aren’t living in an “all people are equal” kind of country. Not when black churches burn. Not when we still judge people by the color of their skin, the language they speak, the church that they may or may not pray in and whom they love.
So on the Fourth of July, know that we can’t make Independence Day a reality with only some of us standing up for equality. If all of us are going to be equal, we need all hands on deck.
Don’t just light your fireworks this weekend. Spark a flame in your heart that will ignite you to do your part so we can be free to be you and me.