A VIEW FROM THE PEW: GOD BLESS AMERICA
An occasional blog by Robin Turpin
July 8, 2023
This week Pastor Sandy began a Summer Series on bumper sticker theology. She noted that a study by LifeWay Research found that over 92% of Christians get all their theology from cliches and cutesy sayings on bumper stickers. This was pretty shocking to me, since most of the bumper stickers I see are downright goofy. I did see this one recently -- “TRY JESUS: If you don’t like him, Satan will take you back”. That made me laugh, but didn’t influence my personal beliefs.
The first bumper sticker Pastor Sandy chose was God Bless America, which is perfect given the Independence Day Holiday. In 1938, while Europe was facing war and encroaching Fascism, Irving Berlin reworked a song he had written earlier:
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free, Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America, Land that I love, Stand beside her, and guide her Through the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans, white with foam God bless America, My home sweet home God bless America, My home sweet home.”
Berlin’s “God Bless America” speaks to the freedom and liberties that the Founders declared as basic human rights. It is quite literally a prayer for a divine blessing. When you read the words above you can hear the plea to God for protection from the evil clouds brewing in Europe. But when I see it on a bumper sticker today it sounds pretty self-righteous: “GOD BLESS AMERICA!!” with the implied sub-text “because nobody else is quite as good”.
Berlin’s words reflect the principles of our Declaration of Independence, which proclaim humankind to be “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. So as Pastor Sandy reminded us, from the very beginning of our nation, the Founders believed that God is the only source of true liberty.
What makes God bless a Nation? Pastor Sandy pointed out that some believe that America enjoys God’s blessing by divine right. And while Americans universally want God’s favor, as a whole, they do not want God. Sadly, that sounds about right. I was inspired by the quote she presented by Alexis de Tocqueville (the French sociologist and political theorist who traveled to the US in 1831 and wrote “Democracy in America”):
“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great, because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
What does it take for America to be great? What does it take for America to be good? What does God require of us to Bless America? The scripture tells us to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God”, yet more and more people seem to want to separate from God.
For God to truly Bless America, Pastor Sandy believes that each of us has to take personal responsibility to live the kind of life indicated in scripture. In Micah – to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God; in Amos – to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream; in Matthew – to love God and love our neighbor. If we do these things, God will have reason to continue to Bless America.
But even if we could fit all this on a bumper sticker, should we encourage others to continue to depend on them for their theological teachings? Another bumper sticker that made me giggle was “JESUS WOULD LET ME MERGE” and honestly, I was tempted to stick that one on my car. And then I realized that instead of telling people what to do, I should just quietly live the life described by Micah, Amos and Matthew. So if you drive by me don’t expect to read anything on my bumper; but you can expect me let you merge – just like Jesus would!