We talk a lot about economic freedom in the United States. We debate which taxes are most fair, which are most oppressive. We wonder which regulations create a fair playing field and which stifle prosperity.
In matters of human relations, we continue to struggle with major problems involving race. But the race crimes we observe aren't sponsored by government or condoned by law. We've advanced to having the luxury of wondering whether to use the word "black" or "African American." We question with good intentions whether football teams should carry names that offend American Indians.
In former South African President Nelson Mandela's lifetime, things were much different. In his native South Africa, well into the 1990s, the government classified humans as "black," "white," "coloured" or "Indian" and gave them vastly different treatment. Black people didn't have citizenship. They were deprived of medical care, public service, educations and even access to public beaches that were taken for granted by whites.
Mandela, becoming the first black South African to hold public office, led opposition that ended racial segregation known as apartheid. He liberated people and brought about fundamental freedoms that are foundational to considerations of economic opportunity, income equality and social sensitivity. In the United States, he is widely considered the South African version of Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and George Washington - all in one man.
"If there were to be an international Mount Rushmore of twentieth century world leaders, his countenance would certainly be among the first to be carved into the rock surface," wrote Richard D. Land, executive editor of The Christian Post, in memorializing Mandela.
Mandela died Thursday at age 95, and today the world stands in awe. He accomplished in one lifetime what has taken wars and centuries of struggle in other parts of the world.
As the first black president of his country, Mandela had something enormous in common with another man: President Barack Obama. Though we disagree with much that our president has done, we heartily agree with his respect and admiration for Mandela - one of history's greatest champions of freedom. Here is some of what our president said, in the wake of Mandela's death.
"At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, 'I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'
"And Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us - he belongs to the ages."
And our president said this:
"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set - to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice."
We're quite confident Mandela resides with God today, watching over a humanity he loved - a collection of individuals and cultures striving to live free. After a life of selfless sacrifice - a life that improved our world - may Mandela rest in peace.