Of God and Country
The theme of “God and country” is indelibly etched in our national culture. Only a few proclaim “I support God and country.” But most of us proclaim “one nation under God.” License plates, bumper stickers, and even our currency proclaim, “In God we trust.” There’s an underlying assumption that the two are, if not identical, at least compatible.
But what happens when the interests of our nation diverge from the demands of our God? In one most glaring example, if it’s true that “In God we trust,” why do we need such a huge military?
“But wait,” you say. “Our enemies aren’t Christian. They won’t trust in God, they’ll use guns. What are we supposed to do?”
Therein lies the problem, because the Bible tells us exactly what we should do.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-22, see also Proverbs 25:21-22)
But we’re not so good at feeding people. According to Oxfam, we spend about 0.7% of our federal budget (and 0.19% of our national income) on foreign aid, and rank 19th in giving, far behind most industrialized nations. And nearly 25% of that aid goes for military support. Meanwhile, I am at a loss to think of a single enemy we have today that we haven’t created ourselves through short-sighted foreign policy. Iran, ISIS, and the Taliban are but three examples.
But let’s ignore foreign policy for a moment. What does the Bible say about how we should treat people here at home?
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. (Romans 14:1)
Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not [feed and clothe] one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:45-46)
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)
If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. (Exodus 22:25)
Can we even imagine a society in which those who are weak in faith are welcomed rather than shamed, in which everyone is fed and clothed, in which foreigners are welcomed regardless of their country of origin, and in which pawn shops are illegal?
There may be such a nation, but it isn’t this one.
And let’s be clear: sexuality may be the measure of immorality promoted by the media, but Jesus never said anyone would go to Hell for being gay. He did say we’d go to Hell for not feeding the poor.
“But we don’t have the money,” you protest. “When so many of our veterans aren’t fed, how can we feed the poor and the refugees?”
But we do have the money, and we certainly have the food. Let’s leave aside for the moment the suggestion that if we fought fewer wars, we would need to care for fewer veterans. We’re the ninth-richest country in the world, mostly behind oil-producing states of the Middle East. And we waste as much as 40% of our food, $161 billion dollars worth in 2010, which makes food waste the largest component of our landfills. Not to mention that 35% of our population is obese, suggesting we consume more food than we need to. Our nation has the resources to help, but too often chooses not to.
Clearly our nation’s policies diverge significantly from God’s.
What do we as individual Christians do about it? Do we remain silent, cheering our nation right or wrong? Or do we speak out and risk being labeled as anti-patriotic? Do we put the needs and desires of the nation above the commandment of God?
The answer depends on our response to this simple commandment:
I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)
Which do we put first, God or country? The Bible leaves little room for elevating nation above God.