Dear Church, God Bless America
Unclench your fists. Hold out your hands.
Take mine. Let us hold each other. Thus is God’s Glory Manifest.
“Epiphany,” Madeleine L’Engle
God bless America? Really?
Tragically, our most recent Epiphany marked the day of clenched fists, angry mobs, and the thunderstorm of violence by white supremacists upon the US Capitol. January 6th represented the exact opposite of L’Engle’s brilliant poem; and the enemy of Christian discipleship in the American experience spewed toxic masculinity on an otherwise momentous day for freedom to shine. “Stop the Steal” insurrectionists showed the world how contagious conspiracy theories wedded to racism and xenophobia make the sickest codependent coupling of Christianity with hateful political rhetoric.
As a minister who hails from the deep South and who is white, straight, and laced with all the privilege my middle-aged maleness has inherited, I took no time for grief. I jumped straight to anger; skipping tears and any hints of “righteous indignation,” I only saw red and wanted to yell to anyone with ears to hear: “This is vile hate! This is our ‘original’ American sin!! This is the idol 400 years in the making!!!”
Haze of tantrum aside, this one thought seems quite clear: behold, our golden calf – “Made in America,” branded for all to see. And this confession, unfortunately, rises even clearer: I’ve been complicit in its shaping. I’m a sad partner in the creation of this beast of burden called “Christian Nationalism.”
What is this deformation of discipleship in Jesus’s name? Cultural sociology helps us here:
“Christian Nationalism is a cultural framework – a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, stories and value systems – that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civil life… The ‘Christianity’ of Christian nationalism represents… nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious.”†
What we witnessed on Jan 6, 2021, while not the first or only show of such sickness, was its most fevered effort to infect the more faithful, fruitful strands of Christianity in our nation. For my part, I want to stand against it – this [pseudo-] Christian Nationalism, but I also desire to stand up for something far more promising and powerful – namely, the good news of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who overturns the tables of hate with love, of aggression and violence with self-sacrifice and peace, of nationalism and white supremacy with inclusion and justice.
To this end, I want to keep growing in the movement Jesus originally founded: the movement of good news that does not intimidate and spew venom but invites anyone and everyone by calling out mercy and forgiveness. His is the invitation to suffering, not domination, as well as lifting those pinned down by hundreds of years of harmful policies and hurtful relationships.
By prayer and faithful action, I plan for these movements in my own perspective to happen in the following ways:
- Globalism over nationalism – to care for the migrant, the dispossessed and the person no matter their ethnicity, language or faith background.
- Liberation over oppression – to seek in all my relationships and every policy decision to free others to help the common good, not merely selfish gain for those who have too long enjoyed power, privilege, wealth and success.
- Peace over violence – to face anger and condemnation not with my own form of wrath, but in nonviolent protest and passionate advocacy for criminal justice reform, for stronger gun laws and for community policing.
- Discipleship over nationalism – as a Christian faith leader, I hope to affirm the good news of Jesus Christ, not weaponize it. Our allegiance, therefore, is not to cults of political personality or partisan interests, but to the grace and love of a Savior who leads us to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
I no longer feel faithful saying “God bless America.” Instead, may God have mercy on us. Maybe then with fists unclenched, we’ll hold out our hands and hold one another that God’s glory might shine upon us all.
Rev. Jay C. Hogewood, Ph.D.
†Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.
Rev. Jay C. Hogewood is the Pastor of Rayne Memorial UMC, New Orleans. Glad father of two really-close-to-adult children, who are in caring professions of health care. Hype man for Luke’s House Clinic, and proud mask-wearer since March 2020.