God Bless America

There is a version of Christianity in the United States that says, “God bless America,” and “God bless our troops.”

But I never hear it say, “God bless the world,” and “God bless our enemies.”*

What kind of Christianity is this?  Is this what Jesus had in mind?

Or is this more like a civil religion that baptizes our national culture rather than critique it according to the teachings and spirit of Jesus?

* I make this statement on the basis of my own observation.  Whenever I hear a prayer for our troops, it always stops there – with our troops.  “God bless our troops in Iraq”.  I’ve never heard anyone go beyond that and pray, “God bless our troops in Iraq and the people of Iraq.”  Jesus told us plainly to pray for our enemies (if you don’t even know where he said that, shame on you!) but there seems to be a great reluctance to do so.  How can that be?  Maybe we’d rather worship Jesus than actually do what he said.

2/20/2010

America, Bless God!

I saw a billboard that said America Bless God.  I got excited.  Finally, I thought, here is someone that sees it.

But when I checked their web site, I found out that their concerns were about opposing homosexuals, fighting against teaching evolution in schools, opposing tolerance to pluralism, and fighting to keep the Ten Commandments in federal building.  Their views on how our country should “bless God” had nothing to do with the mission of Jesus – helping the poor, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, reaching out to the forgotten and downtrodden, or loving our enemies. 

here is an excerpt from my Growing Up in a Garage story.  Loving our enemies is one of the major ways for America to Bless God.

I pose the question of what would happen if a large number of people actually decided to love our enemies.  Actively love them, as in do things to help them, listen to them, try to understand them, find out what their needs are and help them – things that equate to real love.  Not just in theory or “in our hearts.”  What would happen?  These people would be met with huge resistance for the rest of society who would think it not only inappropriate but betrayal of our country and traitors.  They would be punished!  Actually loving one’s enemies would get that one in serious trouble!  Just look at Jesus.

   Here is an old Chinese proverb: when a finger points to the moon, the foolish person looks at the finger.

   This may sound crazy, but I think it is possible to “believe” the Bible so much that the result is to sometimes miss the point entirely.  A good example is what is often done with the Old Testament book of Jonah.  You know, Jonah and the whale.  Is this history or it is literature?  Some would say that if it is “just” literature, like a parable, then it isn’t “factually” true and that would be impossible since the Bible is ultimate truth.  So they go to great lengths to “prove” how a man could actually breathe and live in the belly of a fish for three days and come out alive.  If the “proofs” fall short, they also say that we should just have enough “faith” to believe this, and if I don’t believe it then I lack faith.  But with all respect and great love, I don’t see it that way at all.  The point of Jonah is not the fish story at all but how God loves even our enemies that we despise.  Jonah wants to see his enemies destroyed, and his proclamation of God’s love comes out of him as an accusation against God!  It is our choice to embrace the God who loves everyone, even our enemies, or to reject this concept of God’s love and get mad, like Jonah, because God won’t wipe out our enemies.  Sadly, over the years I’ve heard far more about the fish than how God loves everyone and that maybe we should too, enemies included.  This seems to me like focusing on the finger instead of the moon, as in the Chinese proverb.  I don’t care to debate the fish story because I wish we would focus on the real point of God’s message to us from His prophet Jonah.  If God loves our enemies, then what does that mean for us who claim to love this God and follow Jesus?  It seems to me that loving our enemies has yet to be tried on a large scale.  I wonder what might happen if…

  I hope you read Jonah.  Another great message from Jonah is this:  “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.  From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”  Jonah 2:2.  When Jonah found himself on the wrong path, he turned to God, and God set him back on the right path!  This is one of God’s specialties!

   3)  I want my grandchildren to know that from very early in my Christian life I had a nagging thought that something was missing in the Christianity that I knew.  There were periods where this was so strong that I doubted myself as a Christian and even if there was a God.  A large part of this was due to my analytical mind.  When I took Christianity apart in my mind and tried to put it back together with what I knew in the Bible, so many things didn’t seem to fit.  This bothered me greatly, but I didn’t know how to resolve it.  I’m sure some people would tell me to quit “thinking” about it so much and just “believe.”  But I cannot accept that what we believe should not stand the test of critical thinking.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t need faith.  But what kind of faith?

   To my grandchildren, I say don’t be too surprised or alarmed if some time in your life you find yourself having doubts.  Don’t try to fool yourself into denying them or otherwise dismiss your doubts.  They are telling you something.  Just what they mean is your quest to find out.  Even if it takes a long time, the most likely outcome will be your growth.

   I wish I could tell you here in my little story how I am resolving all this.  But it would be too much.  I have written much about this elsewhere that I hope someday we could share at length.

2/11/16.  Sodomy and God Bless America

Sodom was destroyed by God because they were so wicked.  The only sin mentioned was when some men came to Lot’s house to rape Lot’s visitors (who were really angels that had come to Lot’s rescue).  So the idea that God punishes a city for sodomy is firmly part of the Bible. Indeed, God flooded the whole earth for wickedness. So when some people make the statement, or if you want to call it a prayer, “God bless America”, the implication behind that is the idea of suppressing gay activities since God will punish our nation or at least withhold his blessing because of these wicked sinners among us.

So a large part of the work of the church is seen to be like Abraham who pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom if there were some small number of righteous people there to be spared.  This makes the church the guardians of morality who keep God’s wrath at bay by their prayers and righteousness.

This seems to make sense, since it’s right there in the Bible.  The problem with it is that it has no basis in the teachings or life of Jesus.  For starters, Jesus didn’t go around condemning sinners and guarding the morality of society. In fact, just the opposite.  He was accused by the keepers of society of being cozy with sinners. Jesus violated the rules of decency by touching lepers, treating women and children with dignity, standing up for sinners, speaking kindly of their enemies, etc.  Beyond his actions, his teachings lead us to see God more as a compassionate father than a harsh judge bent on punishing the wicked.

The Pharisees were the keepers of their society. They desired God’s blessings on their society. They saw the sinners as a hindrance to God’s blessing. When they saw Jesus freely forgiving sinners and accepting the unacceptable, they knew this was wrong.  When Jesus was moved with compassion, they were moved to wrath. I see the same thing now in popular Christianity that desires God’s blessing on our nation by condemning the sinners.

Please do not think i am opposed to a decent,  moral society. The Christian influence is a great benefit to society. But this does not mean that the job of the church is to condemn sinners with threats of hellfire. Our work is the same as Jesus – serving the needy, welcoming the outcasts rejected by society, loving our enemies, standing up for sinners against their accusers, etc.

So my prayer is for America to bless God.  And since Jesus said he came to “set captives free,  “ [Luke 4], I believe this is how to bless God – to carry on the work that Jesus began.  To lift up the poor, to serve the needy, to encourage the oppressed, to be peacemakers, to welcome the outcasts and strangers, etc.  Not to judge. Not to plead with an angry God to spare us from His wrath.

The wickedness that God sees is more than just individual sinners but a society that tolerates and perpetuates injustice by the privileged and morally superior. Popular Christianity can’t see the sins of society for focusing on individual morality issues.

Please note that these comments in no way condone the despicable actions of the men of Sodom. However,  it would also be despicable to judge all homosexuals by the actions of these few sex crazed men.

As for God destroying the whole city for wickedness, I have to question – is this really how God works? I rather think this is how a natural catastrophe was interpreted by the ancients, especially by their enemies. It’s the same now when Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed the 9-11 terrorist attacks on God’s judgment against America because of the gays among us. I call that despicable even though he later retracted his remark. The teachings of Jesus point us to a God of love for all people, including our enemies and those we might deem unworthy.

Another problem: the keepers of society can easily also become the keepers of the status quo. Think of the southern Christians opposing the civil rights movement in the 1950’s & 60s. Even their biblical claims could not conceal their hypocrisy when they turned to violence to defend their status quo. I see it the same now with the Christians opposing gay rights who seem to have no qualms about adultery. Isn’t it hypocrisy to pick out one sin that you don’t like? To deny rights to people whose life you don’t like?

If the church did the work of Jesus by serving and defending the outcasts, strangers and needy, it would be a form of condemnation against the society that neglects them. This is how the Christians should be keeping society. Not by accusations and condemnations from those who consider themselves morally superior.  This would put the Christians at odds with the majority of people who do not want to love their enemies and are very comfortable with neglecting the poor and needy and outcasts. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said the world would hate his followers.