I’ve been watching God in America on PBS recently. I will grant that the criticism that it does not touch on non-Christian faiths as much as it ought is valid, but I still think the series has validity, and I’ve already recommended it to my church’s adult education coordinator. Maybe the series SHOULD be called “Christanity in America.”
That caveat aside, it is an interesting take on the conflicting views of faith in the country, never moreso than in the period right before and during the Civil War, when slavery was attacked and defended using the very same Bible. On the show, one abolitionist minister cites Exodus 21:16, “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.” Meanwhile, a pro-slavery preacher quotes Leviticus 25:45, 46 – “You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.” This fight split the Methodist, baptist and Presbyterian denominations for decades.
Meanwhile, the slaves themselves are attracted to the liberation theology of Moses leading his people to freedom, epitomized by Exodus 3: 7-8: “The LORD said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Thing is that most of these people had a certainty that God supports their particular take on the word because they believe – at least the non-slaves – in the notion that the United States is uniquely blessed by God. Interesting, one person in this period was less certain about God’s will, and that was President Abraham Lincoln, a man with a good Old Testament name.
The parallels with modern-day America are clear. There are some who claim to have a direct line to the Almighty when it comes to what is required/desired/permitted/omitted. The rest of us, not so much, except that God couldn’t POSSIBLY have meant THAT, at least not any more.
Anyway, it reminded me of the Bob Dylan song With God On Our Side, performed here by Joan Baez.