A Decent Purpose

As a five-star general who led the Allies to victory in World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower served two presidential terms before retiring from public office in 1961. In his celebrated Farewell Address of that year, offered just days before John F. Kennedy was sworn in, the outgoing President delivered words of caution to a nation still living in the hubris of armed might and growing Cold War hostilities:

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Those words ring just as true today as they did when Eisenhower offered them well over 60 years ago. On this Fourth of July, when we honor and celebrate the history of this nation we proudly call home, we are also invited to measure how our allegiances ultimately lead us to love or hate. Are we building a bigger table, or are we determined to fight over the chairs? For as Eisenhower goes on to note, “Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Decent purpose. Is America only for America? Or do we exist as a citizenry for a more decent purpose? What is the aim of our national ambition? Are the blessings we receive from the hand of Providence for us alone? Is our greatness as a people only defined against the defeat, destruction, or demise of another? The 34th American President cautioned us to see our greatness as an invitation and called for the balance of security and liberty, recognizing that both are needed for a free society.

The First Letter of Peter proclaims, “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.”  The beauty of this nation, even with its tattered and complicated past and our present frustrations, is that our freedoms afford us the capacity to live as a people shaped by the values that point to abundance. Our freedoms afforded us in Christ do the same. We are called to a decent purpose.

Happy Independence Day.