Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Participating in the Civil Religion

image courtesy of the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle
(Notice how on the right side of the banner there is an image of the continental US with the word "God" in the middle. I'm assuming they didn't mean that America is God, but it's still a bit strange. Make of it what you will...)

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer, and I was asked to be part of the day-long observance at the Clarksville YMCA. Pastors of all different stripes (I'm assuming that non-Christian clerics were not invited, which is a shame) would take the microphone in the gym and pray for fifteen minutes. My particular time slot was in the middle of the afternoon, and there were about two dozen folks there. I left most of the time for silent prayer, because I figure if someone wants to hear me yammer on for fifteen minutes straight they'll come to my church.

Normally I get very uncomfortable about things like the National Day of Prayer. Not because I think prayer is a bad idea- I think prayer is great! Nor because I'm not a fan of our nation- I love America. (I don't like everything my government does, but I'm thankful for the freedom to say so without fear of persecution). Nor is it because I don't think we should pray for our nation- it needs a lot of prayer.

The idea is great. But the rhetoric about America being a "Christian nation" often implies that what is good for America is good for Christianity, and vice-versa. That makes me uncomfortable because I don't believe that this is always the case.

Hearing some of my clergy colleagues pray during their fifteen minute slots, I often heard phrases like "Lord, let your will/justice be done in this nation". While I don't know for sure what these individuals meant by that, I often hear such phrases coupled with ideas like "returning this nation to its former glory", which was presumably before sex, drugs, rock and roll, abortion, gay marriage, and Hillary Clinton.

But I have to wonder, do we really want God's justice in our nation? If God's will really is fulfilled, we might be in trouble here in the USA. Reading the Hebrew Prophets, one is lead to believe that God's idea of justice is everyone having and equal share of the resources, and an end to inequality and the idols of materialism. In Mary's Song in Luke (often called the Magnificat), she praises the God who lifts up the humble and brings down the lofty.

Do we really want that in America? We live in a country that has about five percent of the world's population, but we use a quarter of the earth's resources. According to the My Ecological Footprint Quiz, if everyone on the planet lived like I do, we would need 7.62 Earths! And I'm fairly conscious about my consumption compared to a lot of people I know!

I'm not trying to dump on my country or anything. My point is that we should be careful what we pray for. If God's justice was truly done in our country, then we'd be knocked down several pegs. We'd have to stop thinking that we are somehow better than everyone else on Earth be forced to live very simply, so that the 3 billion people who live on less than $1 a day would have a chance to live into what we consider "old age".

Let's be careful what we pray for, America. We just might get it, and we might not like it.

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