Last night Allegheny County Council — Pittsburgh is the county seat — voted down a bill that would have allowed posting of the clause “In God We Trust” in the county courthouse, especially after the county executive threatened to veto it because he said that it threatened religious diversity.
As a severe critic of American civil religion, I completely agreed with that vote because I thought that the bill was inappropriate and, according to my councilperson, “unnecessary.” From a purely theological sense I just don’t get it.
We need to answer first the question “what does it mean to 'trust in God?'” To say that there is a God? Sounds weak to me because of the multiplicity of deistic religions.
And by “God,” what is the reference? Of course what people really mean is God as Christians understand Him — a sponsor of the bill was a self-identified evangelical but can’t specifically say that because … well, you figure it out.
It also represents bad history. Many evangelicals take the tack that America was founded on so-called Biblical principles, but that’s meaningless for a number of reasons.
One, you can mechanically follow “principles” but miss their context and meaning — we know this because the Pharisees loved the principles but, as Jesus said, didn’t really know the God Who gave them in the first place. To paraphrase my favorite Christian author John Eldredge, you can see and apply principles but if you go there what do you really need God for?
Two, when this nation was founded the “generic Christianity” that we say informed it just didn’t exist — all but one of the original 13 colonies had their own state churches, and the theology of many of the Founding Fathers was unorthodox to say the least. (Christians in that day paid a great deal of attention to theology.)
Bottom line, God wants to be experienced and intimately known as a loving Father, not as a mere lawgiver or judge. I don’t see how a bill referring to a generic God fosters that.