The covert conviction that God is an American has been the engine driving our nation's self-image from the very beginning. Of course, we don't say it quite like that. We use high-sounding phrases like "A City on a Hill," and "Manifest Destiny," and other inspirational slogans to suit our current national purposes.
Sometimes these slogans are used for good--to motivate an end to oppression and social injustice, as they were in the abolition, civil rights and other reform movements.
But equally often, these patriotic slogans have been used for causes much less noble. "The City on a Hill" ideal was used by the early Puritans to cudgel any person or religious group that did not subscribe to their rigid views of Christian orthodoxy. "Manifest Destiny" was seen as a justification for displacing and destroying Native Americans who stood in the way of America's "destined" expansion to the sea.
The last few months, however, have seen a new toxicity in "God's Nation." In past iterations, Christians invoking the name of God to bless their National actions at least tried to justify the actions with scripture or to pretend that they were acting from pure motives. But lately, when it comes to government policy, some prominent Christian leaders have abandoned the pretense of following the principles they claim to believe in. They have thrown the full weight of their religious authority behind leaders they acknowledge to have consistently violated the teachings of the Bible. They are doing this, they say, because it's in the best interest of the country. In what sense is it in the best interest of the country? Money, naturally!
Pat Robertson recently stated that we should continue to support Saudi Arabia despite the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi, because, "We've got a $100 billion arms deal....You can't blow up an international alliance because of the death of one man."1 In response to this, comedian Stephen Colbert of The Late Show captured the essential issue in a perfectly-pitched retort, "Thank you, Reverend....Thank you for capturing the core message of Christianity. How important can one man's death be?" 2
In a similar incident, Jerry Falwell, Jr., President of Liberty University, proudly pronounced that there was nothing Donald Trump could do to endanger the support he receives from Falwell and other evangelical leaders. His justification for this blind allegiance was Trump's "business acumen." He claimed, "Our country was so deep in debt and so mismanaged by career politicians that we needed someone who was not a career politician, but someone who’d been successful in business to run the country like a business." He also stated, "It may be immoral for [evangelical leaders who criticized Trump's morality] not to support him, because he’s got African American employment to record highs, Hispanic employment to record highs." 3
Jesus said of Christians, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." 4 Throughout ancient history, salt was greatly prized, not only because it added flavor to bland food, but because in an age without refrigeration salt was the primary means of preserving food.
Jesus is saying that Christians are to be the flavor and the preservatives of society by following His example, by treating others with love and concern and promoting justice for all people. Jesus warned numerous times about the corrupting power of wealth, cautioned that it was very hard for a rich person to enter heaven--even counseled a rich young man to give away all his possessions to save his soul. When prominent religious leaders who speak in Jesus' name abandon Jesus' clear teachings and promote economic or political gain over compassion, justice and individual freedom, every principle of the Bible affirms that those leaders have "lost their saltiness."
Lincoln once said, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” The Civil War forced Lincoln to engage in a wrenching philosophical struggle to understand what "God's side" really means. As expressed so eloquently in the Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln finally came to the profound realization that neither side in the conflict was truly on "God's side." That God had a purpose, beyond man's purposes, for allowing the Civil War to drag on year after year and devastate both North and South.
He said, "The will of God prevails—In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party—and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect this."
Lincoln concluded his most mature philosophical proclamation with these stinging words, "Yet, if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"
He saw that the greed and inhumanity that led to the evil of slavery was not confined to one section of the country or one group of people. In some sense, all sections and all people were complicit for condoning, supporting and profiting from it. No one was guiltless. Therefore, no one could truly claim God was of their party.
The requirements for being on God's side are clearly stated in the Bible. "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."5 Any leader who encourages and supports national policies which conflict with these principles is not speaking for God.
It would be wise for modern Christians to remember that God will call all people to account for their sins, both personal and national. Instead of blithely claiming God is on our side, we, like Lincoln, must wrestle with what it means to be on God's side.
4. Matt. 5:13.
5. Micah 6:8