State legislatures around the country are mandating that public schools install signs proclaiming “In God We Trust” in prominent places in the halls of learning. Apart from the constitutional challenges this entails, serious theological and moral implications are involved.
I think we can safely assume that the God these signs attempt to honor is the God of the Bible. Now the God of the Bible is a complex deity who, for instance, creates the world and then threatens to destroy it with a gigantic flood. Both benevolent and terrible actions are ascribed to this God in the holy pages of scripture and one is often flummoxed in attempts to sort it all out.
However, there is a clearly consistent strain of divine guidance through a number of Hebrew prophets and through Jesus of Nazareth. At times, these prophets and Jesus too, assert that what they say comes from God and their words are often clarion calls to justice, peace, generosity, honest dealings, help for the poor, corruption-free government, welcome to foreigners and compassion for all.
Therefore, I find myself wondering about these “In God We Trust” signs going up on public school buildings. I wonder, for instance, that if “In God We Trust” is a true saying among us, would we have a national policy to separate children from their parents at our borders?
If “In God We Trust,” would we have thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens sleeping under bridges, in downtown doorways, in rickety cars or out in the woods? After decades of discussion in high places and untold millions spent on “studying the problem,” would we still have no solution for this national disgrace?
If “In God We Trust,” would it be possible for almost anyone to obtain a military-style semi-automatic rifle that can mow down dozens of people in a matter of seconds and this while the vast majority of us of every political persuasion clearly desire laws banning such weapons from the general public?
If “In God We Trust,” would we be hell bent on ruining the world the Bible tells us God created? Would our official governmental stance be that scientific knowledge about this blessed planet must be ignored in favor of politically and economically motivated practices that threaten to flood coastal cities, turn vast stretches of farmland into deserts, make the air unbreathable, the water undrinkable and life as we know it impossible?
If “In God We Trust,” would the mentally ill, the addicted, the put-upon and most vulnerable among us be left to fend for themselves in a competitive, fast-moving, unforgiving society? Would the first place a person ends up after a psychiatric break often be the local jail?
If “in God We Trust,” would we think it fair that quarterbacks, basketball players, certain CEOs and hedge fund managers, not to mention movie stars and a number of others earn thousands of times more per year than school teachers, caregivers and people who clean our public toilets? Would we be satisfied that 1% of the people own a majority of the wealth in this land and that our tax laws favor the one percent?
If “In God We Trust,” would appeals to racial supremacy, suspicion of diverse populations and constant hate-mongering speech be the strategy for winning an election?
As I read the Bible, the answer to all of the above is no.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.