Nov
18

All Nations are “Under God”

By

Laurence Vance’s article on the pledge of allegiance elicited an excellent discussion from the LCC community. I’d like to perform my own little “twist” to his point about a nation being “under God.”

One commenter cited a critical verse from Psalm 22: “dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (TNIV). It’s highly unlikely that those who inserted “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance had this verse in mind. Yet the simple truth is: every nation is under God, but in what manner? The truth is that every nation will be judged by God. God is serious about the treatment of the poor. God is serious about our moral decisions. God is serious about the debasement of money. And God is certainly serious about who we worship.

I don’t believe any geo-political nation must be, ought to be, or even can be, a “Christian nation.” But surely that doesn’t nullify God’s demands for justice and morality. Those who live their lives apart from God bring upon themselves God’s judgment, and nations who fail to satisfy God’s demands for justice will likewise reap what they sow.

I am sure some would endorse an idea that we transform “under God” from meaning the arrogant “we are better than you” statement that it is into the biblical Psalm 22 meaning. Perhaps good would come from reminding ourselves that American is going to be judged. It could serve as a stark reminder about the dangers of not living as if we are under God’s reign.

This intent is surely genuine, yet I’m afraid it will do nothing to turn the ship around. There are three main reasons this is the case: (1) the state itself expects nothing less than the traditional meaning; (2) most Christians who endorse pledging to the U.S. flag believe God are passionately devoted to their position; and (3) when on earth will we get the chance to explain this “new meaning” to the pledge? Most recitation of the Pledge takes place at sporting events and schools. Yes, preachers can start espousing this “new meaning,” but I’ll defer to #2 as a response to that impossibility.

Attempting to infuse new meaning into the words “under God” will do little to remind us that God will judge a nation for its sins. In fact, it’s sure to do just the opposite—engender a sense of importance and praise of the state. That is reason enough to not advocate pledging our allegiance.

Yet there are rhetorical advantages to pointing out this new meaning to other Christians. Beyond simply knowing the real meaning of the phrase “under God,” this can become an excellent opportunity to ask meaningful questions. For those who believe it’s our duty to pledge to the flag, we might want to ask, “When you pledge to the flag, do you really believe our nation is ‘under God’?” Or perhaps, “In light of the fact that [insert any/all of the Vance statistics here], do you think it’s helpful to make a declaration that we are ‘under God’? Isn’t that a bit flippant?”

Whether we stand up to say the pledge or abstain, we are standing for something, and we should always be ready to explain our beliefs (1 Peter 3:15). As Christians, we are allegiant to King Jesus, challenger to the Kingdoms of this world. We might even love our country, but the United States of America is not immune from being manipulated by the devil, who Greg Boyd refers to as “the CEO of the kingdoms of this world.” A pledge is reserved solely for the King of Kings, not for a demonic state whose past sins include leading the world in “the incarceration rate, the total prison population, the divorce ratecar theftsrapestotal crimesillegal drug uselegal drug use, and Internet pornography production.” As Christians, Jesus is our King. Above him there is no other.

(By the way, check out Cobin’s work on Theology of Nations for more interesting thoughts on nations and nationalism.)

Doug Stuart

Doug Stuart is interested in the intersection between the progressive Christianity and Austro-libertarianism. He and his family live in Leola, Pennsylvania. Doug's hobbies include theological issues, aviation, and building Legos with his young kids.

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  • Nathan Barton

    Dear bro. Stuart:

    Thank you for an excellent article – whether it was intended to be a companion piece to the Vance article or not!

    I personally have not run into anyone who treated the phrase “under God” in the Pledge as being a statement of superiority: I’ve run into a LOT of people who acted like being an American was God’s gift to the rest of the world: the attitude certainly exists.  But no one with whom I’ve ever had any serious discussion of the Pledge has remarked on this – although once pointed out, it is easy to see.

    As I commented to brother Vance, in my youth I viewed the Pledge as an ideal to be worked towards and not a statement of fact (as with the rest). Your discussion of the meaning of the phrase points that same direction. 

    Of course, I’ve since learned that was NOT the intent of the original writer, who has to be one of the more successful propagandists of the 19th Century.  According to a recent article, his relatives say that he (Francis Bellamy) would probably have objected to Congress adding “Under God” to the Pledge as much as he did changing “my flag” to “the flag of the United States of America” in 1925 or so.  Although he is listed as an “American Baptist” preacher in most biographic sketches, it is clear that he departed even that faith for pure socialism long before he was booted out by his congregation and wrote the Pledge.

    To the extent that the Federal Government ever did work towards a goal of leading the nation in the paths of righteousness, that objective was lost long, long ago, and you make another strong argument for christians to abstain from pledging. AND for seeking to do more to evangelize that part of the world immediately out our front doors, with even greater priority perhaps than yet another mission effort in Africa or Asia.

  • The Kid

    Athiest pride till the day I day!

  • http://www.liveloud.net xfree9

    Nathan, thanks for your remarks. It was intended to complement Vance’s piece, though there was no collaboration done before his. In a sense, it was a “response” to his, but not a contrary response. 

    You mention that you’ve never heard “under God” treated as a statement of superiority, but then you state that you have heard those who thing America was God’s gift to the rest of the world… that to me is one and the same. It’s doubtful that anybody who believes in “American exceptionalism” truly believes they are “better than others.” It’s more subtle, and thus a more dangerous attitude. 

  • http://www.liveloud.net xfree9

    Glad you feel that way. You have your reasons. But I’m curious, why is this comment helpful to a Christian website? 

  • http://libertarianchristians.com Norman Horn

    Given the details on the comment, I think it’s very likely some minor trolling, or potentially even a spam comment.

  • Anonymous

    Brother Doug,

    As the commenter to which you refer, I offer 2 points of gratitude: 1st, I’m glad you found the discussion stimulating; 2nd, thank you for not calling me a madman or an unchristian liar for having recited the pledge. :-)

    Why do you think I “transformed” the meaning of the phrase “under God” as being different from what was originally intended? Why do you just assume this is a “new meaning?” You claim that I am conveniently reinterpreting the pledge but you don’t provide anything to back up your claim. I can only conclude that this “new meaning” is just new to you despite the fact that the “new meaning” is exactly what was intended from its inception. 

    We look at the Federalist Papers to understand the intent of framers of the Constitution. Likewise, to understand the intent of the phrase at hand, all we have to do is review the historic deliberations. 

    The originally requested wording change was, “… one nation, [COMMA] under God, [COMMA]…” That comma is significant! It’s in the context of many states in a republic forming a single nation, COMMA, and that this nation of many states is under God. Unfortunately the comma was removed giving us the current phrase, “one nation under God.” There was also some discussion for using the phrase, “one nation indivisible, under God” but it was abandoned. Nevertheless, the intent is clear in recognizing God as the Supreme Authority. This intent is quite clear in the deliberations and this intent is abundantly clear when you read the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his public speech on the matter as the change was adopted. (Eisenhower had converted to Christianity just one year before this speech. Previously his family had been Part of the Jehovah’s Witness sect until they abandoned it due to failed prophecy.)

    It’s important to understand the motivation for the change in it’s historical context. It was born out of the anti-communist sentiment of the 1940’s. The observation was made by a humble Christian that the pledge sounded like it could be recited with equal fervor from any communist nation. The change to the pledge came as an initiative from mainstream Christianity. The only objection to the pledge by any recognized denomination came from the Jehovah’s Witness. So in objecting to the pledge you are in the same camp, far from the mainstream and possibly on the fringe. 

    (Now to any JW I would say this, I understand your objections to the allegiance word, and I may not agree with your theology, but I accept you. Let him who has perfect understanding of all things cast the first stone. Let any church which has perfect theology sling the first arrow.)

    I would like to think a Libertarian Christian could be quite conversant with the mainstream. I would like to think that a Libertarian Christian could make a compelling case for any reasoning believer. I would like to think that a Libertarian Christian could be viewed as being normal, not weird. But that’s what most “regular” Christians would think after reading Brother Laurence’ article. It gravely undermines our case. Quibbling over a mere 31 words in the pledge and claiming superior virtue because you refuse to utter those “evil words” is hardly ingratiating.

    Instead of belittling fellow citizens for reciting the pledge, how about doing battle with politicians who take the oath of office to uphold the Constitution only to trash it once in office? How about challenging those in “mainstream” Christianity who justify military aggression as a proactive form of defense? How about being thankful for a nation which observes Thanksgiving? In an evil world obsessed with human power, how about being thankful to be in a nation which, in the beginning, via the Declaration, recognized that our rights come from God? How about observing Thanksgiving with gratitude for a nation that to this day recognizes that man’s kingdoms come under God’s Kingdom by reciting the “under God” phrase of the pledge? 

    Let’s stop quibbling and get real. Lets “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) Let’s bring honor to our cause and to the Cause of all life. Let’s promote liberty from the ultimate “Libertarian” because “If the Son has set you free, you will be free INDEED”! (John 8:36)

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