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Under God in Whom We Trust?

A Baptist minister (Francis Bellamy) wrote the first “Pledge of Allegiance” for the United States in 1892. School children were celebrating the Columbus Day festivities and recited, "I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." The US was still hurting from the wounds of the Civil War so the pledge stressed an “indivisible” nation and inclusion of all citizens (Northern and Southern, Caucasian and Black) as deserving of liberty and justice.

Although most people think they were always there, the words, “under God” were added in my lifetime, and debated now. Congress approved the proposal to add the phrase as a reaction to the atheistic Soviet Communist aggression and start of the cold war standoff. As the tensions increased, the motto, “In God We Trust,” was adopted two years later. That was in 1956.

Concerning the “under God” addition to the pledge, President Eisenhower stated, “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future. In this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war.” Then the “Cuban Missile Crisis” happened. I remember it as a grade school student, mostly that my friends and I thought “Cuba” was a funny name for a country. The adults were frightened however, and church attendance in both the Protestant and Catholic denominations boomed, as they did just after the terror attack of 9/11/01.

People flocking to churches out of fear of their own livelihoods is not a picture of the Gospel and flies dishonorably in the face of the “cloud of witnesses”, of the saints who preceded us and who are among us today living in persecution, who willingly flock to their prisons and execution arenas in the name of Christ and not in their own.

The US Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of keeping “under God” in the US pledge based on a legal technicality. In order to keep it under any other basis, the justices would need to define “under” and “God”. Does “under” mean “submission” to God as our Lord, over and above that of the “flag” and “Republic for which it stands” and some of its decrees that many Christians and non Christians alike may find repulsive and offensive? Does “God” mean “Yahweh,” “Allah,” “Christ,” “Krishna,” “Your Higher Power,” or what? How can a committee of people decide for any of us who “God” is and what it means to be “under” Him (or Her or It)? They may take the diplomatic route of saying the meaning of "God" is up to the individual. That is akin to saying it means nothing to the Republic of the US other than a civil acknowledgment of our religious heritage that is no longer practiced or alive as it was during the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead of applauding this use of the word "God", Christians should rather find it reprehensible, since it is a profoundly more blatant, deceitful and offensive example of invoking God's name (or at least His title) in vain, much more so than some individual thoughtlessly uttering the word "God" in conversation.

And so the Supreme Court was happy to sidestep these difficulties in favor of a technicality. But it cannot do so indefinitely. To maintain “under God,” the judicial branch of our government would need to create a sort of civil religion as opposed to a state religion. This should give thinking Christians reason to pause.

As a Christian, I do not want either. It is not the business of government to define who God is to its citizens, though the Chinese, North Korean, Cuban, Iraqi, Egyptian, Israeli and so many other governments do just that, as did the once fearful Soviet Union, to the detriment of those who profess Christianity. The one world government prophesied in the book of Revelation will dictate to the global citizenry who “God” is and demand allegiance to the god they define and proclaim. That will be a most fearful time, one of great tribulation, as already shadowed in history, particularly with the Christian persecution by the great Roman Empire. The tribulations of the past were great indeed, but not global.

On the US one dollar bill is the Latin inscription, “Annuit coeptis novus ordo seclorum” on the “Great Seal”. A “seal” is greater than a pledge or motto. It is the pronouncement of a mission, a destiny. The translation is, “Announcing the new world order.” Next to it, unsealed, is the motto adopted in 1956 in response to fear, “In God we trust.” (In another Reflection, we'll examine the Euro money bill.)

Let Christians take note that every nation has a civil religion. Unfortunately, many Christians in the US and other nations where (almost) all people can practice their religious traditions without overt and blatant persecution don't recognize it and mistake it for Christianity. There are very specific rules for handling the US flag. It must never touch the ground, it must be folded in a certain manner, it must be flown higher than any other flag, including that of your religious insignias, if your denomination has one. Great reverence is demanded more for the symbol of the Republic than for the Republic itself. We Americans can make fun of ourselves, our Republic and our government and its officials on comedy shows and in political cartoons, but we better not desecrate the flag or have fun with it.

Someone wrote how a Baptist friend accompanied her to a Roman Catholic service. To her indignity, hurt and embarrassment, her friend scooped the water from out of the holy water font, rubbed his hands together and wiped them on his pant legs. He looked at her staring eyes and remarked, “What's the matter? That water is no more holy than any water I use to wipe off the sticky candy my kid was drooling on me.”

How would her Baptist friend respond if later that day, during the afternoon picnic, she went over to his flag and blew her nose into it, remarking, "Well, this flag is no more sacred than my handkerchief”? You can imagine, and thus get a more clear picture of what I mean by “civil religion” being blurred with that of the Gospel of Christ.

Interestingly, non Christians recognize it. That recognition spurns jokes like, “In God we trust, all others pay cash” or “Jesus saves, Moses invests.” Recall what Jesus and James had to say about money, and be struck with the irony of what is written on our dollar bills and coins. So fellow Americans and, more importantly, brothers and sisters of all nations, what does it mean to you to be “under God” and to “trust in Him” as a people, as a nation, as individuals, reconciling all of that into one allegiance, to the kingdom of God?

Recall Eisenhower’s quote above. He said that by the addition of “under God” in the pledge “we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future.” His choice of the word, “transcendence” is meaningful. It means “religious faith in America's heritage and future” stands above all else, above faith in judges, in politicians, in diplomats, in the military. Religious faith is not faith in our faith, but faith in our religious focus. For me, whether or not the Supreme Court agrees, it means faith in Yahweh and in His incarnation in Christ.

Even more interesting and essential are his subsequent words, “In this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war.” Spiritual weapons? What are those? If Eisenhower didn't define them, St. Paul surely did: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:12-13, NIV). Regarding “religious faith”: “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

Eisenhower’s words are now blown into the political winds. The North and South American nations, the Middle Eastern nations, the Eastern nations, and even a few of the European nations proclaim to be “under God.” As the old TV game ended, “Will the real nation under God please stand up?” That game always ended with only one standing up. In this new world game, all are.

Maybe all our churches and denominations should play the game. To do so we would need to abandon civil, national religion. “Will the real nation under God please stand up?” Behold, many Americans are standing up! And many Chinese! And many Cubans! Even Israelis and Palestinians! Look, even Koreans and Indians and Africans and Mexicans and Colombians and Peruvians! And even Iraqis and Iranians! As the psalms joyfully declare, people of all nations shall rise and worship the Lord our God! This is the spiritual Israel! This is the nation “under God”! This is the “cloud of witnesses and saints”! Eisenhower’s word, “transcendence,” echoes truth throughout the heavens and earth. One nation, that of the brothers and sisters of the Christ, adopted children of the Father, under God!

Interestingly, the name of that TV game show was: "To Tell the Truth."

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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