I love reading biographies. As a young immigrant child, I read biographies, not only to learn English but also to learn U.S. History. Maybe it reflected my rebellious nature, but I loved reading about the Revolutionary War; the stories of people who audaciously dared to dream of a new system of governance fascinated me.
The person I had the greatest admiration for was Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, a persuasive and impassioned case for colonial independence. Although the Battle of Lexington and Concord occurred in 1774, the colonists’ gripe was with taxes; they looked for remediation, not freedom. The idea of independence from England was not a public discussion until Payne’s work was published widely in February of 1776. Historian Gordon S. Wood described Common Sense as “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.” Payne turned a minor complaint into a full-fledged fight for freedom.
The impact of Thomas Paine cannot be disputed, but we ought to be amazed that the entire course of modern human history was the result of a short 47-page pamphlet – it was so small, it was considered a book. It told the truth and lit the passion in the hearts of the people for freedom. Paine marshaled moral and political arguments to encourage ordinary people in the Colonies to fight for egalitarian government by arguing that since all people are created equal at creation, the distinction between kings and subjects is a false one. Although Paine’s dream of democratically governed society by all equal people eventually lost to John Adam’s cautionary view of human nature – thus creating checks and balances – the independence movement took hold.
Many church leaders are lamenting that young people are not religious anymore. Rather than journeying with young people seeking relevant spirituality for their lives, the Church is complaining that the young people are rebelling against oppressive church systems and its antiquated worldview. Rather than connecting to the hearts of the young people, the Church is trying to sell a dying institution. We sound like the British who complained that the Colonists were not grateful for the King and wanted independence.
History shows us that when we focus on small things, one heart at a time, we can change the world. We ought not to worry about the “state of the Church” but need to focus on individuals’ pursuit of discovering God for themselves. Just as the truth of the equality of all people made in the image of God led the world to seek freedom from oppressive monarchies, the truth of the equality of all people will now lead the spiritual freedom for women, LGBTQI+, and people of color in the Church and the society. We will let the “small thing” of speaking the truth of equality lead us as we change hearts, one at a time.