Leaving Uncle Sam’s Bedchamber

Photo Courtesy of Free-Photos

By Marcus McClain

Published October 1st, 2020

            A highly intriguing story in the First Testament is the story of the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer. Because of its fame, most of us know the story, but I’ll still sum it up in one statement: God has Hosea, a faithful prophet, marry an unfaithful woman. The worst part is not how Hosea originally finds Gomer. Sure, she is a prostitute, but we all have a past; not one of us is perfect or without sin. No, the worst part is after marrying Hosea and bearing him two children, Gomer leaves her family behind and commits adultery. Perhaps Gomer was lured by the smooth words of another to commit adultery against Hosea; something Israel was warned about in the Proverbs.[1]

            Like Gomer and Israel, segments of the American Church have departed from her ever-faithful Bridegroom and has followed smooth words, false gospels and empty promises into the bedchamber of Uncle Sam. Much of the American Church’s relationship to the nation and its politics is unhealthy and idolatrous. We must put the nation in its proper place and return to our first Love, the Lord Jesus Christ.

            In the 23rd chapter of Ezekiel, YHWH levels some heavy judgments and uses some graphic imagery when talking about the northern kingdom of Israel (called Samaria and Oholah) and the southern kingdom of Israel (called Judah and Oholibah) and their lust for other nations. Samaria and her sister Judah pursued Assyria and Babylon and multiplied their harlotries with them because there were things Assyria and Babylon had (or seemed to have) that Samaria and Judah felt they did not have enough of—if they had those things at all. YHWH, in their eyes, could not provide all that Assyria or Babylon could, so they gave themselves to these other nations (and their respective deities) and left YHWH behind.

            Christians living in America are tempted to believe there are things this nation can provide them that Jesus either cannot or will not. Uncle Sam effectively proclaims gospel messages, and Christians in America are tempted to believe and put their faith in them. One false gospel America preaches is ‘a prosperity gospel.’ This is not the typical gospel of the late-night televangelist but is a gospel which declares if you work hard you will always be rewarded. Perhaps there is something you want or need, Uncle Sam intones, all you need to do is try harder, work harder, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and all your needs and wants can be fulfilled. Uncoincidentally, this produces the “workaholism” we see in America. The American prosperity gospel is a works-based message that causes us to work more, rest less and have shallow relationships even with our immediate families. While these might be the values of America, forsaking rest and having little-to-no time with one’s family is antithetical to the Kingdom of Christ.

            Another false gospel is the ‘gospel of security:’ it is America and America’s law enforcement and military which keep us “safe and secure from all alarms.” Despite the hardships we face and the messages of politicians, we live in the safest time in the history of the world. And yet, anxiety and fear in America is higher than it has ever been. Where do Christ followers look to for help and protection? No longer looking to the hills for YHWH, American Christians are more and more looking to Uncle Sam and the American military to keep them safe from the dangers (no matter how minimal those dangers are in reality) of the world. Those who waver in their faith in the American military, praise Uncle Sam and utilize his command to own a firearm and defend themselves. Christ’s commandment about turning the other cheek, His warning about living by the sword and the testimony of the prophets and apostles refusing to defend themselves are ignored in favor of the U.S. Constitution and the rights it provides. We now follow a higher law it seems. In reality, a nation which is under the control of the prince of the power of the air cannot keep us safe because it isn’t really interested in doing so, and as Christ promised, it will one day become the very enemy we would seek protection against. Our security is not in America, the police or the United States military; instead, it is in a Messiah who promised us trouble and persecution but assured us we would overcome in Him even in death.

            Such adoration, trust and faith are put into America because, as John Calvin said, man’s nature is a perpetual idol factory.[2] Our leaders—both our political leaders and our religious leaders—often proclaim that America is the greatest nation on earth;[3] this is a nationalistic and insensitive statement that reveals an explicit bias that is highly problematic to say the least. Any critique of America or any reminder of America’s flaws or mistakes is met with vitriol and anger, as though some blasphemy has occurred. American tragedies, however, are to be eternally remembered and grieved. America is treated as perfect and infallible; descriptions which should belong to God alone.[4] Consider Vice President, Mike Pence’s words during night three of the Republican National Convention. During the end of the speech, he begins to quote Hebrews 12:1-2,[5] saying, “so let’s run the race marked out for us, let’s fix our eyes on [pause] Old Glory….”[6] Here, the Vice President deliberately replaces “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2 NASB) with “Old Glory,” another name for the American flag. While this problem occurs most frequently in the Republican party, America has been promoted in deity on both sides of the political spectrum, and politics becomes the spiritual discipline by which worshipers engage with Uncle Sam to receive the blessings of the false gospels he preaches to them. There is, I think, a better way for those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God to engage faithfully in politics.

            I do not write this article to advocate for a bashing of America or to encourage an abstinence from voting or engaging in the political matters of America. On the contrary, I believe politics is a tool which should be used, not for shaping the nation into what we think it ought to be, but for the good of all who live here or would live here in the months, years or generations to come. Like the gifts of grace which the Spirit gives to be used for the good of the ekklesia,[7] so this constitutional republic is a gift of YHWH’s providence and sovereignty that enables us to make the nation work for the good of all people. This includes people who are of ethnicities we might be tempted to view as dangerous or inferior, people who have sexual attractions or engage in sexual behavior we might find perverse, people who believe they are a gender beyond male or female, people who have religious beliefs we might find odd or wrong, people who are affluent or impoverished, people who have never committed a crime and those who have, and people who have been born and those whose birth is still 9 months away. This is not a Christian nation; there is only one Christian nation and that is the Church of Jesus Christ[8] and she is made up of peoples of all ethnicities, nationalities, and languages.[9] Rather, the United States of America is a pagan nation which proclaims to be open and available to all people, and so, if we are to engage in the politics of this nation, we should do so with those people in mind and do what we can to make sure they are not oppressed or persecuted and can flourish here because they are bearers of YHWH’s image.

            Contrary to the false gospel of prosperity and some political (and theological) narratives, wealth and poverty are not tied to morality. That is, people are not wealthy because they are good or poor because they are bad; there are several factors that contribute to one’s wealth or lack thereof. Likewise, someone who is a hard worker can be poor and someone who is lazy can be very affluent. Politics, used faithfully, can be a tool to ensure there is an equality of opportunities and as few hindrances as possible so people can provide for themselves and their families and there can be a greater equality of outcome. There are also those who cannot make use of opportunities because they are elderly or differently abled; with hearts of compassion, Christians can vote and engage in politics for the benefit of these image bearers as well. In all these things, we are seeking to remember the poor, and we should be eager to do so.[10]

            While Christ followers should not be fearful,[11] anxious,[12] or looking to America for security,[13] politics can be used to protect the most vulnerable among us. Every day, thousands of children are aborted, kidnapped, and/or trafficked. Each year, there are nearly half a million victims of sexual assault in this country. There are millions who struggle and suffer at the hands of mental illness in this country as well. These are the citizens (and image bearers) who should be at the forefront of our minds when voting and engaging in politics, especially as it concerns security. We do not need a greater military presence to intimidate China nor do we need more guns to protect our families by killing other image bearers; in the everlasting arms of YHWH “safe and secure from all alarms,” we are free to look out for and work for the protection of the most vulnerable citizens. Let us no longer count our lives as dear,[14] but laying down our lives for our friends,[15] let us follow Christ in sacrificial love for the other.[16]

            These exhortations might seem hard to place on the political spectrum, and they should be; they are not the agendas of the Left or Right, they are values of the Kingdom—a Kingdom whose King had to be born in a cave, who immigrated to another country for some time, who was raised by a working class family, who respected and learned from His elders, who ate and dined with those completely unlike Him, who was supported by generous friends, who instructed His followers to love their enemies, who healed the unhealthy and empowered his disciples to do the same, who loved children and life at all its stages, who forgave a criminal, and who died for those who unjustly convicted and executed Him. As citizens of a holy Kingdom with an utterly holy King, we should not fit neatly into the political parties of a pagan nation. To do so requires us, the salt of the earth, to begin to lose our saltiness; let us instead do all we can to preserve the saltiness our Lord has given us, lest we find ourselves good for nothing.[17]

            In conclusion, do not treat America, its politicians, or its flag as divine, inerrant, or infallible. America is a pagan nation like all the others and its politicians are sinful men and women, and its flag is simply a colored piece of fabric that is a symbol of this pagan nation filled with sinful people. Likewise, politics is not a sacrament or spiritual discipline by which we engage with these false gods to receive blessings. Politics is to be a tool used to help and protect people, not a weapon to force others to live how we believe they ought to live. Let us not forget who we are and whose we are. We are not Americans who happen to be Christians. We are Christians; the people of the Kingdom of Christ who happen to live in a nation called the United States of America. May God continue to bless His Church in Jesus’s name!

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Footnotes:

            [1] Proverbs 2:16; 5:3; 6:24.

            [2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (James Clarke & Co, 1962), 97.

            [3] Consider Romans 12:3 and Philippians 2:3.

            [4] As well as His inspired scriptures.

            [5] “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

            [6] Vice President Pence’s speech can be watched in full at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phExlTrOI3M.

            [7] The church or the local gathering of Christians.

            [8] 1 Peter 2:9.

            [9] Revelation 7:9.

            [10] Gal. 2:10.

            [11] 2 Tim. 1:7.

            [12] Philippians 4:6.

            [13] John 14:1, 27.

            [14] Acts 20:24.

            [15] John 15:13.

            [16] Romans 5:8.

            [17] Matt. 5:13.

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