Friday, October 26, 2012

In God We Trust

    But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
-Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)

In an email forwarded to me this week, I learned about the federal government’s plan to release new dollar coins with a pretty drastic change. Nowhere on the coins, neither obverse or reverse, would the official motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” appear.
    The email warned that this was “another way of phasing God out of America,” and encouraged believers to refuse the new dollar coins at banks, stores, post offices, or what have you, in order to send a message and force the coins out of circulation.
    I was surprised that a change like this would be made, and surprised that I hadn’t heard about it, so I did a little poking around out in the interwebs. I discovered that the email was correct about a drastic change in the design of our dollar coins, just mistaken about what that change was.
    First, the “new” coins the email described were the Presidential coins that started going into circulation, four new ones each year, in 2007.
    Second, “In God We Trust” doesn’t appear on the obverse or the reverse of the “new” dollar coins.
    It’s on the edge.
    Apparently, in order to make room for “larger and more dramatic” artwork, “E PLURIBUS UNUM” the coin’s mint mark, and the official motto of the United States have been moved off to the edge. Clearly, it’s less obvious, hence the mistaken idea that the motto was left off. But it’s still there. Money in America - where the consumer-driven American Dream of material prosperity rules - still proclaims that we trust in God.
    So, you know, not to worry. We’re still a Christian nation. We must be - our money says we are.
    As my cousin Tom - one of the wisest people I know - pointed out, Jesus had something to say about coins and what’s inscribed on them. He said something like “Let Caesar have his money - and make sure God gets the things that belong to  him, too.” For Jesus, the image of Caesar stamped on the coins of his day said all a believer needed to know about what kingdom those coins belonged to.
    With typical American ingenuity, we’ve stamped God’s name onto our currency. And then offered to hold on to it for him.
    Next on the agenda: getting a camel through the eye of a needle.
    Of course, it’s not so much the slogan itself. “In God We Trust” has become a shibboleth, a secret password that lets us stamp God’s name on our politics and demonize the politics of the other side. “In God We Trust,” along with the Ten Commandments and prayer in schools and the definition of marriage and even how we treat immigrants, are markers. They’re ways of keeping track of the political capital Christians have. Hold on to that capital, that influence, and we hold on to our way of life. We mean our religion when we say that, but more than that we mean our mainstream status, our control over jobs and wealth and government; we mean our state religion. We want our money to say “In God We Trust,” but isn’t that really because what we really trust in is our ability to keep people from taking away the things we have convinced ourselves are ours by divine right?
    Ironically, though, that slogan, if it’s to ever be more than just a slogan for us, ever to be more than just words stamped on metal or paper, should make us suspicious of government - whatever government, of whatever party. No party platform is wide enough or sturdy enough to support the demands of the gospel, and the right answers to a few hot-button issues won’t change that. Those issues become slogans, too, shibboleths that signify whether you’re on God’s side of the political battles.
    But if we mean that slogan, “In God We Trust,” then we ought to hold ourselves to it. Maybe we should take his name off our money, if only to remind ourselves that money, and many of the other things in our lives that we lean on and depend on, can so easily become rival gods. Stamping the motto on our money doesn’t mean that we trust God more. It just lets us more easily convince ourselves that we do.
    Believers pray these words sometimes: “Your kingdom come / your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We’ve sometimes mistakenly thought that prayer has already been answered in the coming of the Holy Spirit, or the Bible, or the church, or one political philosophy or the other. But it’s dangerous to think that. It’s dangerous because it makes us forget about the good portion of the world - and our own lives - in which God’s will is most certainly not done, in which things on Earth are definitively not as they are in Heaven. It’s dangerous because it makes us too willing to accept the oppression of the powerless by the powerful, or too willing to spend our money and resources as though there aren’t children starving in our own city, or too willing to ignore the ethical and moral demands the gospel makes on us.  
    As long as the money we hoard assures us that we trust in God, maybe it’s too easy to believe.
    Maybe...maybe it would be better if we did strip “In God We Trust” off our currency, better if you could swing a bald eagle in a government building without hitting something had that slogan carved, stamped, inscribed, or otherwise emblazoned across it. Maybe it would help us to remember that we’re citizens of God’s kingdom - and (with apologies to my son’s English Lit teacher) that this ain’t it. Maybe it would help us to keep our identities straight if believers were a little less mainstream, a little more marginalized, if following Jesus meant that we had to meet him “outside the city gates” every now and again, and bear the shame he bore.
    Maybe then “In God We Trust” would really be a way of life, and not just a marker of how much political power believers in American exercise.
    Oh. In 2009, the design of the Presidential dollar coin was changed once again, this time to incorporate “In God We Trust,” to the obverse of the coin, under the President’s image. So things are back to normal.
        Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

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