Every Knee Shall Bow?

Many of you know that one of my greatest concerns for our country – for the world – is the threat of Christian Nationalism. In fact, when Calvary had a 20-year anniversary (of being their pastor) celebration for me 4 years ago, I was given the chance to say a few words. My few words were about this very threat, and how all people who care about equal rights needed to band together to oppose this very dangerous movement. From the disregard for the environment to women’s rights to who can vote, the people involved in these theological terrorist groups are trying to change America into a white, Christian, male-dominated nation. Whenever religion and politics get into bed together, nothing good can happen. The cross should never be wrapped in a nation’s flag.

The danger, though, would be to think that this is something new. Christian Nationalism started with Emperor Constantine and is a foundational and ongoing part of American life. The enmeshed partnership of God and Country has been a driving force in our mythology, and Mainline Christianity is guilty of practicing it for our own benefit. It is easy to disregard just how central this idea is to us, but it exists in every aspect of the way we live. It begins with the hymns we sing; their words matter. This past Sunday we sang “At the Name of Jesus”, and I was struck once again by how repulsed I am by the opening phrase. “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. Every tongue confess Him King of Glory now.” For a follower of Jesus, it makes sense to put Him first in the way we live our lives, but the idea that every knee shall – must – will bow, central to some theologies as it may be, feels oppressive to me. It conjures up in my mind images of conquistadors forcing native people to accept Jesus or lose their heads. I remember those drawings from my Sunday school days, and they always creeped me out.

The Mainline Church began to realize the role we played in Christian Nationalism decades ago. We began to talk about justice and equality and were accused of being political. We started to question the way we supported nationalistic ideals and began to work to change them. We realized that the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures were not the king’s lackeys; that job was for the court prophets – the yes men. Those who speak for and about God should never fall in line with any human; rather, we should keep an eye on those in power to make sure they don’t oppress those without power. And – again – when we speak truth to power, we are chastised for being political. It isn’t being political – it’s being God’s servants. I was not ordained to pat people on the back; I was ordained to do God’s work, and support others in the same. Sometimes, God’s work opposes human work, and when people are hurt in the process, it is God’s people who are called to speak up and act up. When we are involved in an unjust war – when secular systems benefit some and not others – whenever people are mistreated by the powerful – we are supposed to be there. 

I would like for every person to do God’s work in some form or another, but we should never use our political power and personal privilege to create God and Country in our own image. We are called to lift people up, not push them down. Believing in God is a personal choice – an aspect of free will. Nobody should ever force someone to live as they do. Faith is a gift, not a punishment.

Prayer – We pray for ourselves today and repent of any role we might have played in forcing our faith on others. Forgive us God; help us to do Your work with gentleness. Amen. Our picture is a reminder that we aren’t the only ones who practice Christian