FIRST PERSON: Remembering the foundations for our freedoms on Independence Day

By Doug Carver

On July 4, 1976, two million Americans gathered at Independence Mall in Philadelphia to celebrate the Bicentennial (200th anniversary) of the Declaration of Independence. The historic event featured President Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States, with Charlton Heston, a World War II veteran and Hollywood star, serving as master of ceremonies. Following the long program, a five-hour parade that included floats from every state and more than forty thousand marchers snaked through the streets of North Philly.

Doug Carver, Major General, U.S. Army, Retired, is executive director for chaplaincy at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). On behalf of Southern Baptists, NAMB is the endorsing entity for more than 3,300 chaplains serving throughout North America and the world. Photo by Sonya Singh

Due to a military deployment, I missed celebrating the Bicentennial with my young wife who was almost nine months pregnant with our first child. Instead, I watched a brief portion of the festivities from a distance on a portable black and white television in southern Bavaria along with about three thousand American Soldiers. I remember standing in a long line of our troops late into the summer night, waiting to call home from one of the few operable payphones on the military base only to be unable to contact any of my family due to the “all circuits are busy” recording on the payphone. Still, my heart swelled with pride that night as I thanked God for our nation’s many blessings, especially the precious gift of freedom.

America’s quest for liberty has come at a high price. The blood, sweat and tears of our fellow citizens paid for it in full, and they continue to do so. As you gaze at the American flag on July 4th, think about the unseen battle streamers received at Concord Green and Lexington Bridge, Antietam and Gettysburg, the muddy trenches in Belgium and France, Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir in South Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the twenty-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as our troops currently deployed throughout the world today.

Pray the Lord provides the members of our Armed Services with the unwavering strength and courage to support and defend the American people and to bring a hopeful future to countless nations across the earth.

When the Continental Congress first met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, they were at an impasse even to initiate the deliberations that would eventually lead to the writing of the Declaration of Independence. After two days of dissension, they agreed to open Congress with prayer. Reverend Jacob Duché, the first chaplain to the Continental Congress, read from Psalm 35 and began to pray:

“O Lord, our Heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth, and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all kingdoms, empires and governments, look down, we beseech thee, on these our American States, who have fled to thee from the rod of the oppressor, and thrown themselves on thy gracious protection, desiring henceforth to be dependent only on thee – to thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause – to thee do they now look up for that countenance and support which thou alone canst give.

Be thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable Assembly.  Enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation, that the scene of blood may be speedily closed – that order, harmony, and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety may prevail and flourish amongst thy people.  Preserve the health of their bodies and the vigor of their minds.  Shower on them and the millions they here represent such temporal blessings as thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come.  All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ thy Son, our Savior. Amen.”

As we celebrate Independence Day this year, let us once again thank Almighty God for our many freedoms. Let us remember the terrible cost of lives who paid the price for freedom. And let us remember that deliberations for our nation’s freedom began with Congressional leaders down on their knees in prayer. We are in such desperate need for a move of God in our land. May the Holy Spirit move in the hearts of our national leaders and our churches once again!

Published June 30, 2023

Doug Carver

Doug Carver, NAMB Executive Director of the Chaplaincy, serves as the senior advisor to NAMB and the Southern Baptist Convention on the chaplaincy ministry. He leads the NAMB Chaplaincy’s Team daily support to over 3,300 endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains.