Sunday, January 11, 2009

"In God We Trust": Is It Really That Important?

The following mass e-mail was forwarded to me today by a Greek Orthodox Christian:

Here's your chance to let the media know where the people stand on our faith in God, as a nation. NBC is presently taking a poll on "In God We Trust" to stay on our American currency. Please send this to every Christian you know so they can vote on this important subject. Please do it right away, before NBC takes this off their web page. Poll is still open so you can vote.

This is not sent for discussion. If you agree forward it, if you don't, delete it. By me forwarding it, you know how I feel. I'll bet this is going to be a surprise to NBC.

This may not have been "sent for discussion," but I'm going to open it up for discussion anyway.

I was tempted to respond to this e-mail by saying: "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and give to God the things that are God's."

I don't understand why an Orthodox Christian has a dog in a fight that (as far as I can tell) is primarily being waged by conservative evangelicals. What exactly is at stake for Orthodoxy in this issue?

But at an even more basic level, I don't understand why keeping the phrase "In God We Trust" on our money is so central to the Church's mission and witness.

I'm not saying that Christians do not or should not have a stake in our common life as American citizens. Or that we should not have a public voice. I do not advocate for the banishment of Christian witness from the public square.

But putting this emphasis on the words inscribed on our currency seems to me to be at best a distraction from more pressing issues (biblical and doctrinal illiteracy within our churches, the failure of "mainline" churches to engage in credible and relevant evangelism, rising rates of teen pregnancy, war, poverty, racism, lack of affordable health insurance, the economy - and on and on we could go). At its worst, it may signal a form of nationalism using Christianity as a cover for its legitimacy.

If I'm missing something here, please help me out.


BillyD said...

In and of itself, it's not at all important. But taking it off the currency would surely give much more fuel to crazed fundamentalists eager to claim that we are abandoning God, I fear.

Joe Rawls said...

Do you know anything about the Orthodox guy's background? I'll bet you dollars to baklava he's a convert from evangelical Protestantism who finds old habits hard to break. On the other hand, since the country can't trust money anymore, it might as well give God a shot.

Bryan Owen said...

You may be right, BillyD, about "crazed fundamentalists." But I'm still puzzled by otherwise sincere, and in some cases quite thoughtful, conservative Christians for whom this issue is so important.

Joe, the Greek Orthodox Christian is a convert from The Episcopal Church. I think that happened well over a decade or so ago, and was largely due to this person discovering that TEC did not share his beliefs (not sure which beliefs we're talking about, though). It doesn't sound to me exactly like what can happen when evangelical Protestants convert and want to move their furniture into the new house. But maybe there's something similar going on. I'm not sure.