This past week Steve and I visited the Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It’s the building where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were debated and adopted. Our forefathers were brilliant and gutsy. To think they were willing to sign their death warrant (Declaration of Independence) over taxes, declaring “no taxation without representation.” I’m over simplifying here, but suffice it to say the Declaration of Independence was a list of grievances against the King that justified forming a new sovereign nation.
As kids in elementary school, we all memorized the Declaration of Independence. Well, at least the first sentence or two.
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.
All men? Did that mean all people? No, it meant all white men. Our founding fathers did not actually mean everyone was created equal and therefore had “unalienable rights.” Those were reserved for white men. Not Native Americans, not blacks, not women. This is a somber truth to my heritage as an American woman.
In a letter dated March 31st, 1776, Abigail Adams urges her husband not to forget the nation’s women when fighting for America’s independence.
“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
His response? “I cannot but laugh…You are saucy (sassy).”
As we walked through the hallways, it was as if you could hear the debates over word choice and concepts. The walls seemed to embody the courage, risk, skill, intelligence, and foresight of these men. The building held within its walls a sobering sense of awe. But at the same time, I experienced somberness in my core – I wasn’t included. They laughed.
Women as image bearers, created equal before God, only became a conversation in the 19th century. (That’s a long time after God spoke Creation into being!) It would be nearly 150 years later, after the Declaration of Independence, that Congress would pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Being in a group that is historically dehumanized, disregarded, and laughed at, is a painful reminder of mankind’s brokenness. Individuals, communities, societies, and systematic structures, all bear witness to the fall. I’m so grateful to have been born in America during the 21st century, when “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women 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.”
But I’m mindful that even if and when men declare the opposite (and they do declare the opposite in many places around the world), it doesn’t change the fact that God says otherwise.
Women – hear your God speak louder than any human voice. Hear him declare that you are his image bearer. “Let us make mankind in our image…male and female, he made them.” (Gen. 2) This is where our worthiness, love, and belonging begins – in the beginning, God said…
Breathe that in deeply.