Maintain perspective

The furor surrounding a federal appeal court’s ruling last week declaring that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in a public-school classroom is unconstitutional because it contains the phrase “under God” proves either the power of symbolism or the folly of it. Or both.

On the one hand, the claim of Michael Newdow, the California atheist who filed the suit that led to the court’s ruling, that “under God” somehow propagates religion-the Supreme Court’s First Amendment benchmark-gives the short phrase far more power than it deserves.

But Christians make the same miscalculation when they get into a frenzy about removing those two words from the pledge. What neither side seems to understand is that the deity language that has always pervaded our political rhetoric is only vaguely connected to the biblical God of the universe. Let’s understand that American civil religion has an agenda that only occasionally reflects the agenda of the Almighty God described in Scripture.

The concept of “separation of church and state” is as much a biblical notion as it is a political one. Politically, it keeps the state from dictating the parameters of religious doctrine and expression; spiritually, it keeps people who are committed to serving God from embracing any particular political ideology or strategy without first holding it to a much higher standard.

Yes, words have power, but the Pledge of Allegiance is only a symbolic representation of American patriotism. True patriotism is believing in and acting upon the ideals those symbols represent-including the right of all Americans to believe in whatever notion of “God” they choose to-or choose not to.

The God of the Bible will be eliminated from our social and political life not when certain religious words, phrases and practices are removed from the public arena, but when the church neglects to live out its calling to put God’s agenda ahead of any political leader or government.

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