Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Constitution and American Interdependence

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the Declaration of Independence and its role as our nation's founding document.  It is true that the Declaration effectively ended the English colonies relationship with the mother country, but it isn't really the nation's founding document.  That document would be the United States Constitution, a document that was written some fourteen years later, after the failure of the Articles of Confederation.  Those Articles were focused on preserving the independence of the various colonies and did nothing to create a real nation, in part because it lacked a unifying legislature and executive with power to connect the rather disparate colonies.

Whereas the focus of the Declaration is on freedom, the Constitution has a different focus -- limiting those freedoms in ways that allow for a nation to be born.  As we near elections there are a variety of movements, from Tea Partiers to Anarchists who seem intent on unraveling the ties that bind us.  As I wrote recently recently, the dominant narrative of the nation seems to be radical individualism.  But is this the narrative that undergirds the Constitution?

As I've noted in other posts, I am involved in faith-based community organizing.  The principles of this effort include building strong relationships, for in these relationships there is power.  Thus, this effort requires interdependence.  With this in mind, and thinking about our current political landscape where considerable effort in moving us in a different direction I found a most intriguing book on faith based congregational organizing entitled When Faith Storms the Public Square by Kendall Clark Baker.  Baker writes:

It took fifteen years for this process to unfold. It was not until 1791 that the Constitution, including its first ten amendments, was adopted and a new government was clearly defined. What we ended up with in many respects was a significant departure from, or at the least a considerable restriction of, the original democratic enthusiasm of 1776. If the United States of America memorialized its beginnings in an observation of the ratification of the Constitution, a more apt name for this holiday would be Inter dependence Day. [Kendall Clark Baker . When Faith Storms the Public Square: Mixing Religion and Politics through Community Organizing to Enhance our Democracy.  (pp. 71-72).]
Baker notes that clergy might be interested in this idea of interdependence, because the core values of our congregations include freedom with responsibility for each other.  It is a primary value that undergirds community organizing as well, for the point of this effort is building community.

As we head toward the upcoming elections, I'd like to have us consider how we can follow the principles of the Constitution and celebrate our interdependence for a moment.  I think it's a value that does connect with important biblical values as well.

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