July 4th must be our day of hanging

Tara Thomas. You probably wonÂ’t remember her name. I saw her in a heart-wrenching photo four years ago as she met her Green Beret husband on an airport tarmac. He was in a coffin. 

As she laid her head on the casket, a bystander caught the moment. It then went viral, reducing the country to tears.

IÂ’ve seen similar moments since then, but that was my first.

We celebrate the 4th of July this week. Independence Day. But what does that mean? 

Is it the day we:

Won independence from Great Britain;

Declared independence from Great Britain;

Negotiated a treaty of independence; or

None of the above.


This is pretty important. As time passes, a nation forgets. We celebrate with parades and firecrackers and cook outs. But why? What  happened on the 4th of July in 1776?  


Look again. Take a guess.


One of my favorite quotes is from Benjamin Franklin. Here’s the short version of what he said at that time: “If we don’t hang together, we will hang separately.”


Now do you see the right answer? 


ItÂ’s when we declared independence from Great Britain, and the Brits didnÂ’t take kindly to it. A clash that year produced “the shot heard round the world” — and the Revolutionary War was on.


HereÂ’s something else important. How long did it last?

One year;

Two years;

Four years;

None of the above.


How many years of bloody battles does it take to give birth to a nation? Years soldiers returned in coffins to grieving widows like Tara Thomas.


Seven. Seven long years.  


When we beheld Tara Thomas grieving for her husband, he no longer belonged to her. He belonged to us. An American among Americans.

In that moment, we remembered something. Deep inside, nestled in a place that needs no voice, we recalled who we are. Neither liberal nor conservative, neither left nor right, neither Godly nor ungodly. We were not African-American, European-American, Hispanic-American, nor Native American.

 We remembered what the people of 1776 were determined to say. “We are Americans.” And what happens to one soldier happens to us all.

But then she was gone. We turned away, recalled where we left off, and the fighting began again. Civil war. 

And itÂ’s dangerous.

IÂ’m reminded of civil wars in Scripture, and the lessons to be learned.

Saul, the first king of Israel, was rejected by God and died in battle. David, the LordÂ’s anointed successor, was challenged by Ish-bosheth.  Ish-bosheth was SaulÂ’s son and the natural successor.

Civil war raged across Israel for five years. But, eventually, David became king.

Civil war is a dangerous place when you have vicious enemies, and Israel did. The Philistines. Fortunately for GodÂ’s people, David crushed them. He loved the Lord, and the Lord was with him.

SolomonÂ’s reign after him was peaceful, but Solomon couldnÂ’t have wronged God more. He worshipped other gods. Because of this, God decides that Israel will be torn in two. 1 Kings 11:1-13

Israel is weakened by the ongoing civil war between north and south, but itÂ’s contempt for God that seals the HebrewsÂ’ fate. 

Northern Israel is conquered first — God’s people carried into captivity, barefoot with bare buttocks. Judah, the southern half of Israel, will fall later.

The Hebrews thought God would save them. One of the great truths of Scripture is the Lord will only put up with so much for so long. 

“I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings,” says the LORD; “I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof, and it shall devour all things round about it.” Jeremiah 21:14

As it was for the Hebrews, so it will be for us. God, and the moral fiber that comes from being with Him, must be our common ground.

I wonÂ’t remember her name, but IÂ’ll always remember that day Tara Thomas laid her head on his coffin. 

Just one soldier.

But this nation stopped for a moment. The scorn, the name-calling, the derision. It ceased. Deep inside, nestled in a place that needs no voice, we remembered. We are Americans. What happens to one soldier happens to us all. 

Let this 4th of July remind you that freedom is not free. Remember those who died. Remember why they died. And remember, if this nation is to stand, we must hang together. One nation following God. Hold Him dear.

The Rev. R.A. Mathews (B.A., M.Div., J.D.) is the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at

Copyright © R.A. Mathews 2017, 2021. All rights reserved.



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