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My wife and I were walking out of the grocery store; the man wearing a T-shirt adorned with “Sorry I Can’t Hear You Over the Sound of My Freedom” was walking in. Gretchen and I spent the ride home speculating about the meaning of the shirt’s cryptic message. It felt aggressive. Something in me quickly assumed it was about the wearer’s right to ignore mask mandates and vaccines. But who really knows?  We both were unsettled by it.

A week later I saw another “freedom” T-shirt that left no mystery: “Whiskey Drinkin’ / Gun Totin’ / Throat Punchin’ / Freedom Lovin’ / American Patriot” Wow! I was tempted to point out that legally the wearer’s right to throw a punch ended where my throat began . . . but I didn’t want to get punched. Or shot.

What in the world has happened to freedom?

Is this what 16 million Americans served in the Armed Forces during World War II to protect?

Freedom ain’t what it used to be. It lives untethered. Nowadays freedom simply means, “You can’t tell me what to do.”

As the Delta variant makes COVID numbers surge, and new mask rules, mandatory vaccines, and more shutdowns loom, a lot of people are asserting their freedom.

What the freedom T-shirt wearers lose sight of is that freedom always exists in tension with other commitments. Are you married? Tell me about your freedom. Saying yes to your spouse means saying no to all sorts of freedom. Do you obey traffic rules? Stand in lines? Pay for your meal at a restaurant? We sacrifice individual freedom constantly for higher values and the common good. This doesn’t make you a sheep. It makes you human. Yes, mask mandates and vaccination orders are infringements on personal liberty. But they are not tyrannical government overreach. They are simply public health orders for the common good.

Alas, that argument is based on reason, logic, and common sense. I don’t think for a minute it will change the mind of a single “freedom lovin’ patriot,” because something much deeper is at play. We delude ourselves if we think reason sits atop our brains and orders our thoughts and actions. Not so. What’s the logic of ignoring mask mandates because God will protect me while owning a gun for . . . protection? Many, many things trump logic. Foremost among these is identity.

Freedom has become a buzzword of a particular identity. I don’t know what to call this identity. It gets expressed on T-shirts, it plotted to kidnap the governor of Michigan, and it stormed the Capitol on January 6. Some use the word “conservative,” but this isn’t traditional conservatism. Some use the word “Republican,” but this Republican identity would not only be unrecognizable to Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, it would be unrecognizable to Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon. And some use the word “Christian,” though it’s not a recognizable form of orthodox Christianity. (As the character in the old movie Hannah and Her Sisters put it, “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”)

This identity likes guns, is anti-science, pro-oil drilling, doesn’t believe in the climate crisis, is simultaneously pro-life and pro-death penalty, is anti-immigration, is angry about Afghanistan but opposed to resettling Afghani refugees, is anti-gay marriage (so much for personal liberty), complementarian, white, Nationalist, and uses words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “patriot” a lot. What is the “freedom” glue that holds this identity together? Sometimes it feels like fear. At other times it feels like anger. What’s its vision for the future? Even Tucker Carlson, the master of white outrage, recently called the Republicans “inept and bad at governing,” and said, “The party is much more effective as an oppositional force than it is as a governing party.” As Groucho Marx once sang, “Whatever it is, I’m Against It.” This identity may have found a champion in Donald Trump, but it’s truest expression these days is found in the outrageous Trump-wannabes who are newly minted members of Congress like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Here’s Gaetz recently on the coronavirus: “I got the Florida variant. I got the freedom variant. It affects the brain. It gets you to think for yourself where you just don’t surrender to the truth that they’re trying to create in corrupt big media.” (But why then do I think of Fox News when he says “corrupt big media”?)

Greene said that freedom “was on the ballot in 2020,” and “once it’s gone, freedom doesn’t come back by itself. The only way you get your freedoms back is it’s earned with the price of blood.”

People are dying in Florida and Louisiana and other virus hot spots because of thinking like Gaetz’s. Greene’s words are just plain scary. Scary like wearing a T-shirt about throat punchin’ and gun totin’. Or scary like Alabama Representative Mo Brooks’s tweet last week after a bomb threat at the Capitol: “I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom and the very fabric of American society.” In the freedom world, blowing up the Capitol or attacking it on January 6 is understandable and excusable while mask mandates are the work of dictators. Truth be told, Gaetz and Greene and Brooks and Carlson and Trump and the Michigan militia exhaust me. Just as the pandemic has exhausted me. I want to scream, “CAN’T YOU SEE THAT YOUR EXERCISE OF ‘FREEDOM’ IS PREVENTING THIS PLAGUE FROM ENDING?” But, once again, that’s the realm of reason. At my worst, I smolder. At my best, I don’t know how to love and help the polarized sides.

Consider the words in Galatians 5:13. I like the way Eugene Peterson translated it in The Message: “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.”

“Serve one another in love, that’s how freedom grows.” Maybe the place to start is by putting that on a T-shirt.

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is the editor of the Reformed Journal. 


  • Joan Bouwma says:

    Well said!

  • Mstair says:

    along side you Jeff, with that frustration ; took me to 2 Timothy…

    ”There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered. 4 They will turn their back on the truth and turn to myths. 5 But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances. Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully.”

    As unattractive as the persecution following the behavior is, it is an open opportunity to live out Galatians 5…

  • Helen P says:

    “‘Serve one another in love, that’s how freedom grows.’ Maybe the place to start is by putting that on a T-shirt.”

    I think you should make this happen Jeff. I’d certainly buy one…and one for all my family members too.

  • Richard D Herbig says:

    Thanks you Jeff for articulating so much of what I feel and have trouble putting into words.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    I’ve had such a shirt, from a fundraising bike ride to support an urban ministry, that has Philippians 2:3-4 on the back: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

  • Harris says:

    Aren’t we all in the same rhetorical boat, turning proper words into cultural markets. The sign , as it were, overwhelms the signified? In a time when we divide cultural goods like Solomon’s baby, perhaps the better path is to Jesus’ instruction to keep it simple, for our yes to be yes and our no, no.

  • Thomas Bartha says:

    Another well-stated piece, Jeff. I don’t always read what’s on others’ tee shirts, but am going to start taking notice. Hopefully will encounter no “gun-totin’, freedom-lovin’ Patriot” shirts or caps…but likely I will. So wearied by these same people who weary you and so many others.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thanks, Jeff, for articulating my distress so well.
    How do you think God wants us to stem this dangerous tide of licentious freedom?

  • James Hart Brumm says:

    Some of this goes back a ways, of course. Listen to how Cecil B. DeMille had Moses speak of freedom and democracy in “The Ten Commandments” in ways that I doubt the original Moses ever considered. God was to be the God of white America.

    Fast forward to the modern era, and some of the big proponents of that “freedom” speak out of both sides of their mouth. Fox News, which is spreading the gospel of anti-vaxxing and anti-masking, has mask and vaccination requirements for people working in their studios.

  • George Vink says:

    Well put once again Jeff. Appreciate your thinking. Sometimes I don’t know what to think anymore in the light of some of the comments, even from loved relatives whom I don’t want to dismiss…..when it’s all over….oops, not going to happen, is it?

  • Mary H says:

    Thanks Jeff!

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Well said, Jeff, and rather courageous to do so I may say. The multiple examples you cite of how we all give way for the common good and for just good order on a daily basis are all apt as analogies. No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service has never led people to drive up to the local grocery store with a Don’t Tread on Me flag affixed to their van or truck in protest. The difference is clear: people have been poisoned by false and malicious claims on the virus as hoax, on the vaccine as mind control, and mask mandates as communism or socialism. Alan Jones on InfoWars, Newsmax, Fox News . . . falsehoods have a thousand little helpers. The Faith vs. Fear folks at a friend’s church used that argument to say “No masks in church” but those same folks wanted guns in church in case an active shooter showed up. Faith is not enough in that case apparently. Why? Cuz a shooter is real. COVID–they think–really isn’t. Lots of people have led lots of “little ones” astray and there aren’t enough millstones to affix to their necks to punish them for this sin and evil.

  • Pettinga Jayne says:

    “Commercialized rage”, a phenomenon of many news organizations, certainly plays a part in the state of our society. Well written piece Jeff, thanks!

  • Mark Hiskes says:

    Jeff, right on, as always. And brave. Thank you, friend. It reminds me of a quote I love from Victor Frankl: “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

    I’d donate to such a statue.

  • KC says:

    This essay does nothing but sow more division, you are either this or that. You are wrong, we are right. How does this help at all?

    “At my worst, I smolder. At my best, I don’t know how to love and help the polarized sides.” You even admit that you don’t know what to do, well one thing would be to stop writing blogs like this that keep dividing. I can’t read this and actually believe that you’d be open to a discussion.

    Oh and Scott, its Alex Jones, not Alan Jones. If you’re going to accuse him of spreading falsehoods, at least get his name right.

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      Mr. Jones does spread nothing but falsehoods and he is an odious figure. I am only sorry you knew so quickly his first name. But if all I got wrong was Alan vs. Alex and you chided me for it, where is your chiding or outrage that a figure like this does influence millions? Talk about sowing division.

      • Kc says:

        You’re sorry that I even know his name yet know all the falsehoods he spews?? Sounds like somebody knows more about Alex Jones than I do. I just wanted you to get his name right. I didn’t say he was good or bad or if I believed him or not.

  • Gary Hudson says:

    Excellent!!! Thank you, Jeff.

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    Let’s make those t-shirts and offer them as gifts for donors to The Reformed Journal this November.

  • RZ says:

    Excellent insights, Jeff. I would add two responses in the spirit of reconciliation and non-partisanship:
    1. Unless one chooses to live alone on a deserted island, there is no such thing as freedom. To be human is to think relationally and reciprocally. You illustrate this very well.
    2. There exists great confusion caused by a blurring of Constitutional and Biblical ideals/ purposes. The Constitution offers freedom and does so within covenanted parameters. The Bible, however, offers no such thing. We have “freedom in Christ,” whose example and instruction immediately call us to give up that freedom in deference to our neighbor. The “law and the prophets” rest on this principle. How else do we interpret the message of the cross? Shalom relies on mutuality.

  • Jack says:

    You posted this in 2021, it is now 2024. Many of your comments were directed at giving up freedoms for the good of the community, related to COVID. Are you now, after seeing the truth come out about the false narratives used to subdue your freedoms still in agreement with your words of wisdom in 2021?

    Freedom is the opposite of oppression, something our ancestors left England for, something many died for in many wars this country has been through, and why the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence were drafted. We live in a Federal Republic not a Democracy, recite the pledge you won’t find Democracy anywhere in the pledge. That means each individual is free to chose. The constant move to be a Democracy will turn into a state managed Socialist State, something many these days are ignorantly claiming to strive for. Freedom to choose is something God gave us, why would you want to revert to being dominated over. The choice to compromise or walk away.

    If you don’t like it here, walk away. Kinda straight forward. That said the US, just like heaven, has rules to get in, the rules for coming to the US are like any other, assimilate to our way of thinking or move on. We used to be a God fearing country, now we truly are becoming dominated by those who sit in Congress and the White House. Freedom does cost and this country has paid dearly, it is sad to see it get thrown to the wayside just to appease a small segment of individuals who already have the freedom to make choices just by being part of this great nation. Walk with your feet if you don’t like the way our nation sees “freedom” and realize that I am “Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of my freedom.”

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