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Opinion: On God and Country

Worship leader Michael Gungor on the tension between faith and politics.

According to a tweet I saw from RELEVANT, Billy Graham’s website recently removed “Mormonism” from its list of cults.

All silliness involved with cult-listing aside, when we start changing our theology because of our political alliances, something has gone awry. But I guess this should not be that surprising in a culture that idolizes nationalism like we do.

Do you know how many churches in the United States have American flags on their church stages? Do you realize how ridiculous that is?

Other countries don’t do this. Can you imagine Jesus breaking the bread at the last supper, and then stopping to raise a Roman flag in the middle of the table before pouring out the wine? Don’t you think that would be inappropriate? Yet, thousands of our churches do this every week. To make matters even worse, they often put up a Christian flag as well.

God.

Country.

It’s all over the place.

I was just in Fox News the other day, and throughout the waiting room, there were books like “Serving God and Country”, “Our Sarah (Palin)”, or “Spiritual Influence” (I’m sure things aren’t entirely subtle on the other side of the news reporting spectrum either).

Don’t get me wrong. I love America. On a number of levels, I think it’s the best country that’s ever been. But America is a human Empire. It is not the Kingdom of God. It is no more or less important or loved by God than any other nation or empire through history.

God and country do not belong on the same plane. So why does this happen?

I think much of the idolatry of nationalism comes down to good ol’ fashioned, demonizing “us and them” crap.

“We” are the good guys. “They” are the bad guys. It’s fear. It’s the essence and source of evil. Here’s part of a conversation I watched happen two nights ago:

“Romney wants to make abortion illegal!”

“Well, good!”

“What?! How can he tell a woman what she can do with her body?”

“How can any of us decide whether we have the right to kill a human being? There are studies…”

I have my own opinions about all of those issues, but I just kept quiet and watched both sides sincerely knowing that his side was right. As a result, they were not really listening to the other person, but just spouting off the clichéd answers of their particular parties.

(Pro-life) is horrified at this monstrous (pro-choice) because (pro-choice) assumes (pro-life) wants to take rights away from women. At the same time, (pro-life) is horrified at (pro-choice), thinking that she wants to kill babies.

In these situations, we stop conversing with human beings and start dealing with principles. Principles aren’t supposed to bend and flex. You’re not supposed to stay “kind of” faithful to your spouse. You’re not supposed to “pretty much” pay your taxes. So, when we get into these divisive discussions, we end up arguing against people and for principles, demonizing the other into a “them” that stand in the way of our principles.

(Anti-gay marriage) is horrified at this monstrous (pro-gay marriage) because (anti-gay marriage) thinks that (pro-gay marriage) is trying to desecrate the sacrament of marriage while (pro-gay marriage) is horrified at the monstrous (anti-gay marriage) who is trying to discriminate against gay people.

As a result, we’re rarely even talking about the same thing. The pro-choice person is talking about the woman’s body, but the pro-life person is talking about the baby’s body. And neither side really wants to talk about the exact thing that the other does.

The pro-gay marriage person is talking about the right of an individual to be who he or she is without discrimination and the anti-gay marriage person is talking about the concept and sacrament of marriage.

They aren’t talking about the same thing, but they both have red faces, yelling at each other. If you really listen to both parties, it can look pretty ridiculous. Like one person yelling that the sky is blue, and another saying “No! You’re wrong! The grass is green!”

Perhaps, in an insanely polarized culture like the one we are living in right now, it is high time to shut up and actually listen to each other. Treat human beings like human beings. Try sharing a conversation over a meal rather than just another red-faced debate in some blog’s comments.

The reality is that most people want good in the world. Evangelicals used to demonize Mormons. They put them on cult lists. But now that their interests are aligned politically with Romney, they’ve found it politically convenient to discover the humanity of a Mormon beyond his label.

Maybe the world would be better if we didn’t wait for the demons to bow down to our same idols before we look at them in the face to see if they are actually demons or not.

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