“The two main elements of which American democracy is compounded may be seen united in the familiar phrases of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ One element is the idea of equality; the other is the idea of liberty. These are not only different ideas — they are in some ways quite contradictory. Equalitarianism implies the individual’s responsibility to and dependence on the community; libertarianism implies the community’s responsibility to and dependence on the individual. … Although the equalitarian and libertarian tendencies were each predominant at one or another period in our history, neither alone defines American democracy. Rather, it is their imperfect fusion, their interconnection, and their interaction.” — from “American Democracy and Music (1830-1914)” by Irving Lowens, in Music and Musicians in Early America (New York: Norton, 1964), pp. 265-266.
The problem with American democracy in the past three decades, it seems to me, is that the libertarian impulse has been slowly swamping the equalitarian impulse.
This problem pervades our society, and our congregations are not immune from it. The question facing us, then, is simple: How can we promote a better balance between the equalitarian and libertarian impulses within our congregations?