Monday, April 27, 2009

Does Anyone Remember the Official U.S. Motto?

Opening his two-part series, "God and Country", Andy Stanley talks about how many of us have had a few conversations with the television screen, because we agree or disagree with something we see. Many of us think that if Washington would give us an hour of their time, we could solve so much. There are many debates that we could talk about or argue. "I think there is another debate going on behind the scenes that we need to talk about", says Andy. Every once in a while, in the life of a nation, a social issue will intersect with the Bible. When these crossroads take place, sometimes it's up to us to speak up. Andy originally thought this idea would only require one week's attention, but there was so much information that he made it into two.

At the heart of this issue is our national conscience. We all have a conscience individually and God speaks to us through it. Sometimes, though, we can become calloused to our conscience. In our society, we have collective conscience which can be family values or a corporate culture. This can be easily seen when a family with one set of values gets together with a family of another set of values. Such value conflicts might surface in the areas of language, television/movie filters, video games, music or alcohol. "I was actually recently in the reverse of that which was a little embarrassing." Andy and his family got together with another family who found that movies and video games in his house weren't as tightly screened as they were in their house.

In addition to a family conscience or a corporate culture, our nation has a collective conscience. "How many of you, if you knew you could get by with it, would still hesitate to take a big bag of fast food trash and throw it out the window on the way down the highway?" Virtually no one would do this because we, in the U.S., are very litter conscious. This is simply an area of the national conscience that has been drilled down into us as a society. It is one of our do's and don'ts.

The anti-slavery movement in England and the U.S. was led by the conscience of these two countries. The civil rights movement was another example of a war of conscience. Laws and regulations of change were made as a result. Abortion has been another example of degrees of tolerance, which the nation has accepted. Child pornography is wrong in our society. Men in our society don't marry 11 year old children. You can't marry 3 wives in our country. But what are our values based on? Why the high cringe factor when we talk about the legalization of drugs? Child labor laws are strict in our civilized society. We have naturally developed an "ought to be" conscience as a nation.

There are two general observations of a conscience:

1) When there is a strong collective conscience about something, you don't have to have a lot of rules because everything is more or less understood. In a healthy community, there simply don't have to be a lot of rules. If it is understood, for example, that stealing is inherently wrong, then there don't have to be rules to outline specifically when stealing has actually taken place. If stealing is not understood, then we are likely to be over legislated. The reason that laws are getting out of hand in our modern day is because the courts are now trying to legislate morality. Imagine a society where we define our conscience by what a court says!

2) A conscience has to be informed. Someone taught us that littering was wrong. In Romans, Paul is talking to a group of people who didn't have biblical laws . Romans 2:14-15, "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." This talks about how, in the absence of laws, the moral conscience takes over.

Now, we have a national conscience, but what originally informed it? A sense of personal and corporate accountability to God, our Creator. In general, it was established by a general sense that there is a God. "I'm not arguing that the founding fathers were all Christians", but Andy is stating that there was a general sense of a Creator. Look at the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; life liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These men were saying "we are going to start a nation. We are going to break off from England and we are going to outline our identity as a nation." The second line of the Declaration of Independence invokes the presence of a God!

There was some hypocrisy of these values when slavery arose, which eventually led to the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address includes, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom." President Lincoln voiced the notion that we are a nation under God. In the 1950's, the phrase "one nation under God" was put into the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, just 53 years ago, something happened that eludes many of us. Our country got a brand new motto. On July 30, 1956, the 84th Congress declared it's official motto, under President Eisenhower, was to be "In God We Trust"!!

If tomorrow, you walked into Home Depot as an employee and yelled, "You can do it", the response would be "And we can help". If you walked in to the offices of the University of Georgia and yelled, "Go...", others would respond, "Dogs!" If you yelled, "Eat..." in a Chic-Fil-A office, you'd hear "...More Chicken!"

But what if every principle of every public school got on the PA system and said, "Kids, we trust God"? Can you imagine? There would be lawsuits everywhere! It's the national motto!! We have drifted so far away from God talk in our society, we can no longer say it in our institutions. Now it's strange if a public school teacher said the U.S. motto. God has, over time, been pushed further and further to the side. Did you know that every year, there is a group who sues to take the "So help me God" part out of the official oath. Why? It probably isn't the concerted effort by individuals to eliminate God. It could largely be part of the fact that some people, in the name of God, have done some ridiculous stuff.

Why is this subject so important? The reason is our national conscience is tied to the existence and the presence and the centrality of God. It has everything to do with how we view Do's and Don'ts of our society. As God is moved aside, we lose much of our sense of accountability to God. And if God, then, is no longer central to our conscience, something else has to take its place.

This is a debate between the grateful and the accountable to God, versus the ungrateful and unaccountability to God. For the ungrateful and unaccountable, in their heart of hearts, they don't feel accountable to anyone. If you take God out, there is no accountability. Look at your own life when there wasn't God in your life. Do you remember how you lived? Are we going to be a nation of gratitude and accountability or is it going to be a nation of "In We We Trust"? If we can pull God back to the center, we can finally reestablish the foundation of our national conscience.

"If our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is tied to Creator God and we remove Creator God from the dialogue, then what is the new basis or protection for those rights? We don't know where it will go, but we do have the clues as to where it has gone in other countries. Typically, when it falls onto regulations and laws, eventually those rights go away.

Homework from Andy's message which he request is for us to try and recall the last time a President prayed in public. Also, he asks if we will ask others what our national motto is just to gauge awareness.

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