Surface Faith

January 06, 2008

One minor provision in a domestic-spending bill that was recently passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush is the directive to move the phrase "In God We Trust" from the edge of dollar coins to the surface. Some Christian leaders are hailing the move as great news. Frankly, I do not see why people spend so much time trying to stamp the phrase on our coins. Instead, I would rather see us pour that energy into living out the phrase in our lives. I wrote about the problems with the phrase on our coins in an August 2006 Ethics Daily column. Here is an excerpt:

First, it is important to note that the phrase is not only recently being challenged by those who find it inappropriate. While atheists such as Michael Newdow are the primary opponents now, some Christians formerly objected to it.

... The second problem with the phrase is that it often seems to be less about trusting in God than about America being great. It was first suggested to be placed on currency during the Civil War.

... In essence, the phrase was birthed in a bloody war to somehow claim the righteous high ground. Likewise, it became the national motto in the midst of nuclear fears with the communists and is celebrated today in the midst of wars in the Middle East and fears of terrorism.

A third problem with the slogan is its prominence on money. It is sadly ironic that many people--including many Christians--are perhaps more likely to read the word "God" on their money than anywhere else on an average day. Does this somehow make up for not opening our Bibles between Sundays? Or for not praying except when in trouble? Or for not sharing the love of Jesus?

... Finally, the phrase is incorrect in saying that "In God We Trust." More accurately--since some Americans do not believe in God, or believe in a different god or gods--the phrase should say, "In God Many of Us Trust." But as the financial scandals and pleas to God only in times of crisis suggest, this trust is not very consistent. Maybe the motto should therefore be "In God Many of Us Claim to Trust Some of the Time." Though more accurate, it is unlikely to gain popularity (or fit on a dime).

Despite this inaccuracy, many Christians point to the motto as proof of the U.S. being a "Christian nation." Yet, such a sentiment stands in direct opposition to evangelical Christian theology. Trust in God and being a Christian ultimately resides at the individual level. Thus, how can we as a collective nation be a Christian or trust in God unless each individual therein is or does?

Instead of a personal salvation, this slogan helps create a nationalistic salvation where one is godly simply because one is an American. Without true faith or trust and without actions to support the words, the slogan is ultimately meaningless. God is not going to look at the coins in our pockets to see how we should be judged, but in our hearts. Perhaps, then, we should spend less time honoring and fighting for the wording on our coins and instead attempt to give to God that which is His.

America may have its godly-sounding slogan, but it also has numerous people who desperately need much more than that. Maybe we should start ministering to the least of these, instead of worrying about the phraseology on our coins. Maybe we should start leading people to actually trust in God, instead of spending our time and money trying to "save" the national slogan.

Otherwise we are left with nothing except a false gospel that has been nickeled and dimed to death.
So forgive me if I am not celebrating that the phrase will move to a position of greater prominence on the dollar coins.