Friday, March 17, 2006

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD...

I recently saw this phrase, a verse from Psalm 33, on a church bulletin cover in a catalogue. There was an array of patriotic themes, showing pictures of the statue of liberty or various buildings in Washington, D.C. I've also seen the statue of liberty shown with the words "proclaim liberty throughout the land" (that one is from Leviticus 25).

There is a big danger in tying together our faith and our country of citizenship. By doing so, not only does the line between them blur, but we also then can start to think that any Bible verses about God's nation or God's people is really about the country in which we live.

So by now, you might be starting to think "you are so unpatriotic!" or "but this is a Christian nation". Before you get too upset, hear me out.

While we may be a nation in which a majority of people identify themselves as Christians, that does not mean that we are a Christian nation. We do not have a state religion, and that is a very good thing. It means that we are all free to worship as we please. It means that identify as Christians we are not doing so because that is just what our country has picked as its religion, but because we believe it. It might also be beneficial to try to look at our country with an outsider's eyes. Does "Christian nation" match up with what this country stands for? If someone only today became aware of our country and heard that it was a Christian nation, what would they learn about what it means to be a Christian? Would they learn that a Christian is one who is told to sell all his possessions and follow Jesus?1 Or would they learn a Christian is one who accumulates many possessions--car, house, computers, tvs...? Is this a nation whose God is the Lord? Or is this a nation whose God is consumerism?

The phrase "God bless America" is one that easily rolls off of the tongues of many. But what does it mean to be a nation that is blessed? Does it mean that we have everything we want and are powerful and that life is perfect? It does not. Remember Abraham? In Genesis 12, God told him to leave his country and family and go to wherever God would lead him. He told Abraham (still named Abram at the time) that He would bless him and make him a great nation "so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2). Being blessed by God was not something Abraham "earned" or "deserved", but rather, it was something that brought great responsibility with it. Abraham and his descendents were to be a blessing to "all the families of the earth" (Genesis 12:3).

So when we say we are a nation that is blessed by God, do we understand the ramifications of being blessed? Do we take that blessing and in turn, bless others? How?

So to get back to the problem with mixing patriotism and faith. When we mix the two together, what happens when there is a conflict between the two? Which one wins out? If patriotism demanded that one give up practicing what one believed, is that acceptable? Or if faith demanded that one give up believing in one's country, could that be done? If we had a state religion, then wouldn't what we practiced be dictated to by the laws that were made? How many Christians would like it if the state religion decreed that the sabbath2 would no longer be observed on Sunday but rather they were going to switch it to Wednesday instead? I think this is one of the things that proponents of a "Christian nation" do not think about. I think that while they want Christianity to influence government decisions, they do not realize that it would have to work both ways and that government decisions would also influence Christianity.3

Often, we hear about laws that need to be instituted or we need to have Ten Commandments monuments or nativity scenes on display because "this is a Christian nation". But why do we? Why do we need to have secular agreement with how we already practice our faith? Shouldn't our faith be practiced no matter what decisions the government does or does not make? If we are not practicing our faith in our own homes and in our own lives, why should we demand that the entire nation submit to it?

1 "'If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the por, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions."--Matthew 19:21-22

2 Sabbath in this context refers to the Christian sabbath that takes place on Sunday. The Biblical Sabbath takes place from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown.

3 Isn't this how we ended up calling Sunday the sabbath anyway? When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, didn't Constantine declare Sunday would be the sabbath?

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