The second sentence of the July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today, 237 years later, we see, hear, read about and sometimes even personally know or are related to members of the armed forces who have given life or limb in protecting the freedoms we so often take for granted. In addition to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Americans highly value the freedoms of religion, press, expression, choice and assembly.
How ironic it is that the expression of these freedoms often results in toleration and eventual acceptance of ideas, concepts or behaviors not in sync with traditional Judeo-Christian values.
For example, according to a story on the front page of Tuesday’s USA Today, we see a shift in approval of same-sex marriage from 25% of Americans in 1996 to 55% of Americans in 2013. (Source: June 2013 survey by Princeton Survey Research and previous polls by Gallup.)
Contributing to the continuation of that trend, the United States Supreme Court in recent weeks struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, with rulings that most likely will result in more widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage in more than the twelve states that, along with the District of Columbia, currently approve it.
Closer to our home in Texas, the State Legislature is embroiled in a controversy over approval of a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would require abortion clinics to meet rigid hospital standards. To say the least, supporters and opponents of abortion are quite animated in expressing their respective positions.
It’s obvious that the expression of freedom does not always produce a result that’s either pleasing or peaceful to all concerned, not to mention in accord with the will of God.
On a more positive note, nearly 25,000 young people and their adult counselors have assembled this week in San Antonio for the 12th LCMS National Youth Gathering (NYG). That includes 17,500 teens, 4,800 adults, 500 young adults and 2,500 volunteers! What a positive witness these young people have given in the nation’s seventh most populous city!
Here in San Antonio, the freedoms mentioned above have been demonstrated in remarkable fashion. These young people make me humbly proud to be a part of the LCMS!
In the past several years I’ve heard with my own ears from some who want to put an end to these gatherings. That includes, during my administration years ago, some members of the LCMS Board of Directors. Some critics continue to express their opposition today to the NYG.
On the other hand, my ears have also heard many positive testimonies from young people who have attended NYGs in the past. They speak of the life changing and faith building impact the gatherings have had on their lives. A few have testified that they came to a gathering with the intention of ending their life, but abandoned that plan as a result of what they heard and experienced at the NYG they attended. God be praised!
I thank God for LCMS Youth Ministry staff and volunteers who spend much time and energy planning and conducting these gatherings. I also thank God for the dedication and commitment of parents, pastors, DCEs, youth counselors, Concordia University students and the young attendees themselves for the commitments of time and money to plan for and attend the NYG! And I pray the positive influence of the LCMS National Youth Gathering will continue for many years to come!
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!