I had the great privilege of attending the memorial service for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., earlier this week.
The more than two-hour service was a moving tribute to a woman who spent virtually her entire adult life serving her adopted country, most famously as U.N. ambassador (1993-1997) and Secretary of State (1997-2001).
Madeleine Albright first came to America as an 11-year-old refugee, arriving on the SS America, along with her family, fleeing communist oppression in her native Czechoslovakia.
The memorial service celebrated Secretary Albright’s life and her great love for America and what America stands for — freedom, liberty, and the innate, God-given value and dignity of every human life.
The memorial service celebrated a story that could only transpire in America, where an 11-year-old refugee could rise to the office of secretary of state, the senior position in the presidential cabinet.
Concerning the service itself, one particularly moving element was that her pallbearers were various members of her State Department security detail during her time as secretary of state.
Another personal touch was the fact that all the ushers were her former graduate assistants during her more than 30-year teaching career at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.
Her three daughters’ heartfelt tribute to their mother was a moving reminder that “Madam Secretary” was a loving, caring, “hands-on” and involved mother who was cherished by her children.
I have spoken previously about my personal friendship with, and admiration for, Secretary Albright. Even though we disagreed on many domestic issues, we shared a deep love for America and a fundamental understanding that America was, in her words, the “indispensable nation” if freedom and liberty were going to survive and flourish around the world.
Her life story gave Secretary Albright an existential understanding of the stakes for the world if America does not fulfill its responsibility to be the friend and champion of freedom and human dignity. Secretary Albright believed, as I do, in “American exceptionalism,” and that is not a doctrine of pride and privilege, but one of sacrifice and service.
Several years ago, I was asked in a public debate, “What is your biblical evidence for “American exceptionalism?”
I replied, “To whom much is given, much is required. No nation or people have ever been as blessed as the citizens of the United States. A blessing by definition is undeserved. I believe we have an obligation to be the friend of freedom and the defender of human dignity wherever we are asked and wherever we can. We cannot address all the world’s ills but when we can make a difference, we should.”
I know that Secretary Albright agreed with that belief because I asked her.
As the United States and the rest of the free world mourn the end of our “holiday from history" that began with the fall of the Soviet Union and ended when Russia invaded Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of the new Beijing-Moscow “axis of evil,” Madeleine Albright’s legacy is especially instructive.
Secretary Albright often referred to herself as “an optimist who worries a lot.” I thought of that when I received a memento given to those who attended the memorial service. It was a small card with the Secretary’s picture on one side and on the back this quote from Vaclav Havel, president of her native Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and the Czech Republic (1993-2003):
“I am not an optimist because I am not sure that everything ends well. Nor am I a pessimist, because I am not sure everything ends badly. Instead, I am a realist who carries hope, and hope is the belief that freedom and justice have meaning –and that liberty is always worth the trouble.”
That quote, I believe, admirably summarizes Secretary Albright’s worldview. America was blessed to have her as a citizen and public servant. May her tribe increase.
Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.
Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.