Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In God We Trust??? (Dialogue Column 9.30.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

According to U.S. Treasury records, the motto “In God We Trust” has been on United States currency in one form or another since 1864. In 1908, Congress made mandatory the appearance of the motto on most U.S. coins. The president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, wrote “to put such a motto on coins . . . is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.” Teddy was and remains in the minority of American opinion, however, an overwhelming percentage of American approves of the motto on currency. Roosevelt’s opinion was proven correct, however, decades later when the motto was challenged in the courts by plaintiffs who argued it privileges one religious view over others. The Supreme Court declared the motto could remain on currency because it has “lost through rote repetition any significant religious content." The Court also said in another case that “so-called acts of ceremonial deism” do no harm because they lack any real meaning or context.

Over the past few weeks, we have learned just how true the words of the Supreme Court were. The motto “In God We Trust” may make people feel good, but it has not helped solve the financial crisis currently afflicting our economy. I imagine that given its druthers Wall Street would prefer to trust in the Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary than in “ceremonial deism.” I agree with Mary Nelson, a Chicago-based Christian social activist, who writes on the God’s Politics Blog, It strikes me as sheer nonsense that our money has ‘In God We Trust’ clearly printed on it. It is more appropriate to say, ‘In Money We Trust.’”

For people of faith, the current financial crisis is a stark challenge in regards to where our ultimate security lies. The scholar Diana Butler Bass writes (also on the God’s Politics Blog), “the community of grace, is ultimately strengthened by worldly hardship because it reminds us that our spiritual investment is in a realm not seen. Our community is one marked by holy insecurity—the sure knowledge that our wisdom is not an economic strategy; our power is not financial; and our trust is not in princes.” It remains to be seen how the crisis on Wall Street effects those of us on Main Street—or on Faraon and Tenth Streets, but no matter how much this economy hurts each of us, we must grapple with whether we trust in God or in money.

This week, members of First Christian will receive letters from our Finance Committee regarding making pledges for the 2009 church budget. I have heard in numerous meetings that given the current economic insecurity, it is a terrible time for a stewardship campaign. Maybe so. Maybe not. God does not give us the option of being stewards of the blessings we have been given only when times are good. We are called to be stewards of our talents and finances during every time—good and bad. As your pastor, I would put it to you this way: if during the times when stocks were up by double digit percentages you gave more to the church, then by all means give less now. If, however, you did not give out of your abundance, then I hope you will not give less during a time when you have less. If your giving to the church amounted to an afterthought during good times, then I encourage you to not make it the first place you cut back during the bad times.

More than anything, I encourage each member of our church to think about what this church means to you. Is First Christian the community of grace that you feel God has called you to be a part of? If so, then it is worth supporting financially, because for you, this is where God has chosen to involve you in divine work. If not, then you and the church have bigger problems to discuss.

Giving money, time and talents to your church is not supposed to be the same thing as what is given to any other charity or club. It is supposed to be an act of faith and a demonstration of a person’s priorities who is a part of the Kingdom of God. That can amount to different things to different people based upon a person or family’s particular situation, but to all of us who call ourselves Christians, our giving should demonstrate that our trust is found in God not in money.

Grace and Peace,


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