The Fourth of July celebrates the independence of the United States from British rule. It commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776, 241 years ago. In 1938 Congress acknowledged Independence Day as a paid holiday for federal employees. Congress approved the wording of our national Pledge of Allegiance in 1945. Nine years later the words "under God" were added to the pledge after the word "one nation". When I began public school in 1956 every school day began with a recitation of Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. We remember those days, and many other elements of our corporate experience, with a whimsical "that was then, this is now."
The America of 2017 is drastically different than the nation in 1776, 1938, 1945, or 1954. Someone has estimated that around 2.5 million Americans populated the 13 original colonies in 1776. The Native American population is thought to have been around 100,000. By 1938, Americans of all nationalities had sky-rocketed to around 129.8 million and to more than 139.9 million by 1945. When the Pledge of Allegiance was adjusted to reflect "one nation under God" the nation had grown to 163 million. Even after the post-war immigration boom the spiritual landscape of the 1954 nation would have been predominantly Christian. Reciting "under God" in the pledge of allegiance would have troubled only the most adamant secularists or atheists in in the population mix. The validity of the statement has been challenged in the courts and in public opinion on many occasions. But, as late as 2010, state and federal courts have upheld the "one nation under God" pledge as constitutional because it is voluntary and does not bind anyone to a particular religious persuasion.
While a majority of our 321.4 million + citizens still classify themselves as Christian, pluralism and a growing population segment of citizens with no religious preferences have made the "one nation under God" claim a stretch. For me it is more a heart-felt prayer than a spiritual reality. Few can definitively argue that "one nation under God" wasn't a sentiment shared by our founders, national leaders, and most Americans throughout our epoch even before it was codified as a phrase in our Pledge of Allegiance.
This shift from presumption to prayerful hope does, however, move me to the inner sanctums of spiritual reality and responsibility. Those of us who utter this prayer for the nation bear the burden of influence that can make it so. Jesus sent his disciples into the first century world where "one nation under God" was conceivably impossible. Except, mind you, that "all things are possible with God" (Matthew 19:26). He trained those early believers to let their lights shine and season their world with Good News. Check a map of the New Testament world and note the growth of the Christian movement in those beginning years.
One nation under God? A doubt to many. A prayer for a few. A possibility to God!
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as
Psalm 33:12, ESV
Amen. May it be so.