From the Editor

Of Slogans and Stickers

When we ask God to bless America, what are we really saying?

Recently the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran two pages of comments from school children, asking them to talk about the U.S. pledge of allegiance to the flag. Youngsters were asked to indicate whether or not they believed reciting the pledge in school should be compulsory. Not surprisingly, the kids’ views were mixed.

The article reminded me of comments, reported to me some years ago, by a young middle-class student somewhere in this great land of ours. She told her teacher one day, after classes, “I don’t want to recite the pledge any more. I don’t think it would be honest.” The teacher pressed for a reason. The student said, “The pledge says the flag stands for liberty and justice for all. But I know a lot of people in this country who don’t have those things, and the rest of us aren’t doing anything about it.”

The teacher told the student, “The pledge is something that everybody says, so just say it and don’t think too much about it.” The reply she got was, “Well, okay, you can make me say it with my mouth. But you can’t make me say it in my heart.”

Who was being more honest at that point — a teacher requiring a pattern of behavior, or a student struggling with liberty and justice issues?

Frequently in traffic these days, especially since September of 2001, I see bumper stickers reading “God bless America!” I think I know what’s behind the sentiment when it’s plastered on a bumper or on a billboard, but I’m not altogether sure. The expression raises questions for me.
As one of my adult daughters asked me, with great insight, “Does ‘God bless America’ mean God should bless America instead of anybody — or everybody — else? And, if that’s what we mean, then why should God treat the U.S. as ‘most favored nation’? And, conversely, if the U.S. is not God’s special pet, then why ask God to bless us specifically? Why not plaster on bumper stickers that proclaim, ‘God bless everybody’? or ‘God bless the world’?”

Here’s an even more troubling question which I believe is raised by “God bless America” sloganeering: When we ask God for a blessing, are we saying we want God to bless what we do and what we espouse? If that’s the case, our nation has some soul-searching to do before we ask for God’s approval. As the little girl said to her teacher, we aren’t providing liberty and justice for all. And a lot of us don’t even care that we’re not.

Is that something we want God to bless?