A Believer’s Reflections on a Faithless Nation

It’s the Fourth of July holiday and there’ll be fireworks and public celebrations all across this country. Don’t get me wrong: there is a lot to celebrate here. In theory, the American democracy is a bold and exciting experiment. We enjoy a fairly educated population and, for many people, a high standard of living, and even unimaginable wealth. Politicians are fond of proclaiming loudly (and to vigorous applause) that we live in the “greatest country on earth.” Whether that’s true or not — whether it was ever true — is open for discussion.

I would suspect that not a few people, seeing my title, would be anxiously reading along right about now looking for what national “sins” I’m going to spotlight to back up my claim that this is, indeed, a “faithless nation.” And that is exactly what I hope to provide here: a critique of how our values have been subverted. I write from the point of view of someone who believes in the mission, teachings, and divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that the Scriptures as accepted by the Christian Church (the Tanak — what we call the “Old Testament” — and New Testament) are divinely inspired. As a believer, I feel that I am justified in comparing the values of this country to those I find in the Scriptures.

Although I accept that this nation has wandered far afield from Christian principles, I do not accept that this is, or ever was, a “Christian nation.” The founding fathers were primarily Deists who had a healthy suspicion of what we now call “organized religion” in general and Christianity in particular. Yet, many of the values that they enshrined in the founding documents are shared with Christianity. So, it is not a tragedy in itself that the United States does not adhere to Christian values (it never did). The real tragedy is that professed Christians have abandoned Christian values and are proselytizing for the other side.

Some of those who are reading this are saying to themselves, “Yes, you’re right! Things like the legalization of abortion and gay marriage are destroying this country.” On the contrary. As a believer, I want to state right up front that these issues are really irrelevant to the ills that are besetting us. As issues, they exist on the periphery of what ought to be our concerns as believers. Those two issues that have so many Christians so upset and angry are are more cultural than Scriptural .

We seem to have been overrun by wolves in sheep’s clothing who are ravaging the minds and hears of the flock using every means available to subvert the message of Christ. Here’s what I mean: preachers are fond of using the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of God’s wrath against the unfaithful. Somehow, they imagine that the “sin” of these cities was sexual immorality {and they want you to read that as “abortion” and “gay sex” in particular). Now go back and read the text. It says nothing about sexuality at all. What it says is that the people in those cities abused strangers (foreigners).

Try it yourself. Use a Scriptural concordance and look up “strangers,” “widows,” and “orphans” in the “Old Testament.” See how often God, through the law and the prophets, rails against his people for neglecting their fellows — especially strangers, widows, and orphans: the marginalized. In every case, God supports the marginalized against the comfortable, the rich and the powerful. Moreover, he leaves his people to their own pitiful devices whenever they forget their roots — who they are.

And, as if this were not enough, the Gospels — the parables and preaching of Jesus himself — are full of examples of how “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Need I list the parables? The Good Samaritan. The rich man and Lazarus. The Widow’s Mite. The Pharisee and the Publican. I could go on. Now turn to the Gospel of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, nothing in the Gospels supports choosing one’s own comfort and possessions over the needs of the marginalized — let alone rejecting them, pushing them away, abusing them, and leaving them to die!

Jesus himself never stressed ritual or sexual purity. He saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death by gently reminding the bystanders of their own faults (and therefore their own hypocrisy). He traveled in the company of social and religious outcasts. Not only that, he ate with them (which in their culture was considered a sharing of their very life essence). All people make bad decisions (“Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone”) including you and I. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus condemn people for making the “wrong” (not according to the letter of the law) decision. Sometimes it’s out of a (real or perceived) necessity, other times its an error in judgment. Often people make decisions that appear “wrong” to us because we don’t understand them. Whatever the reason, Jesus never condemns these people. The people he condemned were the hypocrites and the holier-then-thou.

Yet how many “good Christians” want to be judge, jury and executioner for the people with whom they disagree? Many say, “Make all these things I disagree with illegal. Then they won’t do them anymore!” You think you can change people’s minds by threatening them with punishment? Is that what Jesus did? Would Jesus approve of punishing someone who was doing the best they could in a difficult situation if he didn’t agree with them? When did Jesus ever do that? When did he ever turn one of his little ones in to the authorities? Isn’t that precisely what was done to him?

So, where’s the Gospel — the Good News — in the attitude of many self-styled Christians that says, “I don’t want my taxes to go to help those people! They’re not deserving!” If you believe in Christ, how do explain this passage from the letter to the Romans: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Do you think you were you deserving of that? If not, how can you say that anyone is “undeserving” of your help? Re-read the parable of the Unjust Steward.

Look around you. Where do you see the real Gospel being lived? It’s not among the rich and powerful or the comfortably successful whose primary interest is preserving what they have and the lifestyle they’re used to. You want to find the Good News of Jesus? Go look among Jesus’ little ones: people of color, sexual minorities, alcoholics, drug addicts, sex workers, the homeless, migrant workers, immigrants — all the people you may think you’re better than. Those are the people Jesus sought out. And if you do, go not to “help” them but to learn from them what trust in God really means.

I look around me and see a faithless nation whose collective beliefs in wealth and power and status have turned them away from working for the common good and into enemies and oppressors of God’s little ones. If America suffers the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, it won’t be because of legalized abortion or gay marriage. It’ll be because not only have we as a people lost our faith in the Gospel, we’ve become traitors to it: inhuman bullies, turning on the little ones — the very ones whom God so ardently loves.

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