“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7: 21-23 NRSV)
So yesterday I was driving home from an excursion to the bookstore (one of the few places where I’m TRULY happy). It was a gorgeous day outside with temps in the 70s. I stopped at a red light and noticed that I was waiting behind a Davis County Sheriff’s office truck. I sat and read all of the things emblazoned on the vehicle, then I noticed that on the back bumper were the words “In God We Trust.”
Huh. Now my first thought was, “Man, they’re just asking for a lawsuit.” However, then I began to think more critically about it. Let me warn you right now, I do not believe in conflating God with country on ANY level. If you’re one of these patriotic Christian types, you’re going to get angry, so continue at your own risk. Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more I asked myself “Why is that there? No, really, why put that on a police car?”
Did they believe that by invoking the name of God that it would somehow protect the officer driving the car? Doubtful. Did they do it to please the local public here in Utah, most of which are very religious? Possibly. Did they do it because they can, they want to show off the fact that this is a religious area so IN YOUR FACE ATHEIST SCUM!? Maybe.
But I think the reason they did it was because this is America, and in America, we make a HUGE DEAL out of acknowledging God. Despite the best efforts of the ACLU and a few very vocal advocates for the separation of Church and State, most of America still claims to be Christian, and claims it very loudly and shrilly to anyone within ear shot. Think about it. Even in this modernistic humanist age, a great many Americans still file into church every Sunday (or at least on Christmas and Easter). The United States is almost totally responsible for the huge numbers of Bibles distributed in the world every year. Our national politics are still impossible to separate from what is viewed as our national evangelical identity. Ugh, just typing that makes me want to barf.
We loudly proclaim “In God We Trust.” It’s even on our money, which to me is just the hypocritical height of idolatry. If there’s one thing we truly worship in the USA it’s money, and money is what we truly trust. We insist that out leaders be Christians. A suggestion that a leader is not a Christian can turn off huge portions of the electorate. (Think all the claims that President Obama is actually a Muslim.) We proudly proclaim that our laws are based on the Ten Commandments and the Bible, which isn’t true. Our laws are based on Enlightenment ideals and English Common Law. We claim that our nation is rooted in Christianity and God, which is also not true. Our country is rooted far more in John Locke than in Jesus Christ and God is not mentioned even once in the Constitution.
But still we proclaim “In God We Trust,” which wasn’t actually added to our currency until 1957, and “One Nation Under God,” which wasn’t added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954, nearly 200 years after the founding of the republic. We make a big deal out of being God’s spokesmen in the world.
But, as Jesus says in the above verses from Matthew, not everyone who runs around crying “Lord,Lord!” and prophesying is going to make it into the Kingdom of God. Why not? In the passage Jesus says two things: we must do the will of his Father, and he must know us. We need to know Christ, and part of that is actually DOING the will of the Father. Evangelical America preaches that you can pray the “sinner’s prayer” and head into a “Bible believing church,” and you’re all good. Jesus seems to want something more. James says it like this in the first chapter of his letter:
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. (James 1: 22-25 NRSV)
So if we are doers of the word, if America is a “doer of the word,” what might that look like? Well much of American Christianity would say that we need to make abortion illegal, outlaw Marriage Equality, openly discriminate against LGBTQ people, put prayer back in public schools, wage mighty holy war against our enemies, and of course make ourselves rich and get lots of money.
Those are undeniably the pillars of American Evangelicalism today. I’m pretty sure Christian rocker Carman had at least one song citing all of those. If that also sounds like the social platform of the Republican Party, that’s because the two are now one in the same.
But is any of it according to God’s will? Is any of that what he wants us to be doing? I don’t like abortion, but to outlaw it would eliminate it’s use in legitimate medical circumstances and sentence women who become pregnant from rape to yet another indignity. I don’t believe God is in line with either of those things. Should we get rid of Marriage Equality? While I believe that churches should not, and will not, be forced to marry same sex couples, to deny these loving partners the same equal rights under our law is utterly disgusting. I also believe that a loving, committed same sex couple is just as glorifying to God as a heterosexual couple in the same circumstances. I also don’t believe that God wants us to openly discriminate against LGBTQ people, or anyone else. To do so plainly violates the command to “love thy neighbor.” Why put prayer in schools and force it on non-believers? Jesus had ample opportunity to enforce his will and beliefs on secular government and chose not to. Jesus also tells us to love our enemies and that those who make peace will be blessed, so much for Christian war-mongering. Finally Jesus tells us that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. James goes on at length about the sins of the rich against the poor, yet the Gospel of Personal Wealth and Rampant Capitalism still far surpasses the Gospel of the Humble Nazarene in every part of our country.
I think if America were truly being “doers of the word,” our country would look a lot different. I think we’d have a national healthcare system that would grant everyone access to medical care whether they could pay for it or not. I think we’d be striving to use our power and resources to make peace in the world instead of threatening countries who disagree with us. I think we’d spend more on helping the sick and the poor and less on bombs, guns, and the weapons of war. I think we’d be offering to do whatever we can for women with unwanted pregnancies instead of just screaming about abortion. I think we’d give poor people bread instead of Bibles. I think we’d strive to serve others rather than enrich ourselves.
In short, we’d look an awful lot like Jesus.
We never have though, and we never will. Which is why I choose not conflate God and Country. They are two separate things, and they are not equal. It drives me nuts to see the Bible or the Cross draped in the American Flag. We don’t have a monopoly on either of those things, which are both so much bigger than our country. I hate seeing the flag in my church sanctuary, a place I believe is Holy Ground reserved for God. Put it in the fellowship hall or in the vestibule, but not in the sanctuary. I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore either. I can’t pledge my allegiance to a country that honors God with it’s mouth and fails to follow his word in the slightest, and at any rate, Christ says you can’t serve two masters. Only one gets my allegiance, and I choose the cross of Christ over any earthly country.
That sounds radical, and it is. Don’t get me wrong, I love my country and I will continue to try to change things for the betterment of all in the guidelines set out by my faith in Christ, but where the two come into conflict, I’m going with Christ every time. Unfortunately I think we’ve seen that “In God We Trust” is more a political platitude than a statement of faith, so these two things clash quite often.