By: Pastor Mary Beth Hartenstein

In just a few days, we celebrate Independence Day, on July 4.  Since the holiday occurs on a Friday this year, I am guessing a lot of individuals and families will be taking advantage of the long weekend that many will be able to enjoy.  Picnics, fireworks, sparklers and time to relax will be a part of many plans for this coming weekend.

This federal holiday was established in order that we, as persons living in the United States, might recall the humble beginnings of our declaration of independence from the rule of England.  With less than 1500 words, the Declaration of Independence contains some of the most eloquent phrases that speak to some of the most important aspects, rights and freedoms, of our lives as individuals and as a country.  Although this document was unanimously affirmed by all thirteen states, the words of this declaration have united us and divided us ever since.  Political battles, conflicts and court decisions have happened as individuals and leaders have tried to faithfully interrupt this pronouncement for each period of time that has unfolded in the 238 years since it was first penned.

One of the most quoted lines from this statement of declaration is this, “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.”

Here in the United States of America, we take our rights and freedoms seriously. The decision by the United States Supreme Court, made just a few days ago concerning a case involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Company, has placed the understanding of rights and freedom once again at the front and center of conversation.  For myself, I am trying to gain a better understanding of what this decision means for me, for others, for our country, and for our future.

What I am reminded of in all of the conversation and coverage about this decision is that there is no issue that is undeniably clear and that there is often much more that is unclear.  Where does one person’s or corporation’s rights begin and another’s ends?  Can one person speak for anyone other than themselves?  If I exercise my freedom could I be taking away another’s? No issue, no topic, no question has just one side or one answer.  There are always multiple ways to view anything because we all bring our own experience, our own biases, and our own views into that discussion.

As we continue to celebrate our fifty years of ministry and look toward our future, we will have many chances to engage in conversation about goals, programs and ministries.  Difficult topics might come forward.  Challenging decisions might need to be made.

What I hope that we, as Hope United Church of Christ, will not lose sight of is our goal to listen respectfully to one another even when our opinions differ.  I hope that we will not forget that each person brings something to the conversation that can enhance our own understanding more.  I hope that we will not be quick to judge another when we do not agree.

Exercising our freedom to be a church of great diversity offers us so much, but it also comes with great responsibility. May each of us celebrate this holiday remembering that we have entered into a covenant with one another to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, along with the cost and joy of exercising our freedom that we have as a people in this country.