July 4 is when Americans traditionally celebrate Independence Day (even though the correct date is July 2, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve independence from Britain). The holiday has become synonymous with BBQs and fireworks, but the event we celebrate is too meaningful to let pass by without something more memorable.
In hopes that you’ll commit to make this year’s holiday more substantive, here are 10 ways you, your family, and friends can celebrate Independence Day.
1. Read the Declaration of Independence
It seems like an obvious one, right? But when was the last time you actually read through the document that gave rise to this holiday? Chances are, it’s been a while. It’s not long—you can read it in five to ten minutes.
Here’s a snippet to get you hooked: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
2. Consider Your Grievances
The reason why the delegates voted on and approved the Declaration is contained within the document: a detailed list of actions showing how King George had, through “repeated injuries and usurpations,” violated the rights of colonists.
While we often reflect on how grateful we are for our freedoms, it’s important to ponder the problems and consider where improvement is needed. After reading the Declaration, review the listed grievances and consider the state of affairs today. Is our government, though comprised of elected officials, much better? What policies concern you? Which, if any, do you feel have as their “direct object thet establishment of an absolute tyranny”?
3. Become Anxiously Engaged in a Good Cause
Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you identified any grievances, now consider what you can do about them. Perhaps you can call your Congressman or Senator, start a petition, write an op-ed to persuade others, or run for office yourself. Join a group with like-minded people or start your own! Whatever it is, commit to becoming anxiously engaged in a good cause to “alter” the government, as the Declaration says is our duty.
As Elder Cook has said, “The price of freedom has been too high, and the consequences of non-participation are too great for any citizen to feel that they can ignore their responsibility.”
4. Read “The Proper Role of Government”
Known church-wide as one of the more patriotic of church leaders, Ezra Taft Benson had experience in government, including as secretary of agriculture under President Eisenhower. Throughout his life President Benson was called upon to share his thoughts on world affairs, and on many occasions he delivered a speech that was later titled, simply, “The Proper Role of Government.”
Here’s a snippet to get you started: “The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this. What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form? A hypothetical question? Yes, indeed! But, it is a question which is vital to an understanding of the principles which underlie the proper function of government.”
5. Read Doctrine and Covenants 134
This section of scripture was not a revelation, but rather was approved for inclusion in the first edition of Doctrine and Covenants by a general assembly in Kirtland on August 17, 1835. (Interestingly, Joseph Smith was out of the country, and upon his return he accepted the congregation’s decision.) As explained in the Church’s institute manual, “The article on government was included in that edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as a statement of belief and as a rebuttal to accusations against the Saints.”
On this day celebrating our independence, it’s a great idea to review some of the key concepts in this section, such as verse 2: “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”
6. Write in Your Journal
If you’re like me, you struggle to keep up with your journal. On this day of remembrance, write a letter to your posterity—tell them why you’re grateful to be an American, what you’ve done to preserve the freedoms your forefathers fought so hard for, and what they should do to defend them.
When you think about it, we have the scriptures today because prophets of old wrote in their own journals—they documented what they learned and what they thought. Imagine how valuable your thoughts and words might be to future generations!
7. Read “The Law” by Frédéric Bastiat
If you read President Benson’s article in #4, you came across the name of a French guy named Bastiat. He lived in France in the early 1800s and was an economist and politician—and, like many of the founders, a “classical liberal.” Bastiat wrote several important books, one of which is short and sweet: The Law. In this book, which you can read in an hour, he concisely and eloquently explains the proper role of government—so it makes sense why Benson quoted from him several times.
Here’s a snippet: “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
And if you’ve got kids, there’s now a children’s version of this book.
8. Warn Your Neighbor
Apathy is sky-high; many people simply don’t care about political issues. In D&C 88:81 we’re told that “it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.” As you learn more about our freedoms, and how they’re under attack, it’s important to share what you learn with those around you.
You can use social media, a direct email to close friends and family, a book club in your home, or other avenues to share information with others that will help them learn about liberty and understand a bit better why America was meant to be special.
9. Watch a Reenactment
The video above portrays the final vote and the first public reading of the Declaration, from the recent John Adams series. As you watch, consider how you would have felt, as an average colonist, upon hearing the news. Would you have been excited? Scared? Hopeful? Or perhaps opposed, as many colonists were, to the entire movement for independence? Then give some thought to how you feel about political events today, and attempts to “alter” the government to better protect our rights.
The scriptures repeatedly relate the power of prayer to change lives—and in the aggregate, entire societies. Learning about liberty, identifying your own “grievances,” and charting your own course will best be accomplished through God’s help. Express gratitude for the blessings you have, and pray for guidance as you determine what you can do to make a difference in the world around you.