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Obama: Changing Bad Theology One Word at a Time

February 25, 2009

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As a perennial theologian, the last words of all major political speeches calling on God to bless America have irked me. Bad theology is like trans fats and hand guns — it’s dangerous. It leads to xenophobia, hypocritical policies for immigrants, illogical wars (yes, I know, they’re all illogical), and consistent denial of starvation, disease, and other human rights violations. I could go on.

I am not exaggerating. Theology — bad or good — has very real effects on people. Bad theology has brought about the Crusades, the denial of women’s rights, and the genocide of Native Americans. On the other hand, good theology has brought about farmer’s rights in Latin America, the non-violent Civil Rights movement, and the blossoming evangelical movement to restore the earth.

Obama closed his speech last night like all savvy post 9/11 politicians do – by calling on God to bless the United States of America. But one of my colleagues at FCNL clued me in to a subtle difference… the word “may.” President Obama said, “May God Bless America” rather than “God Bless America.” Yes, the difference is slight – but it’s also compelling. It’s an authentic recognition of the ignorance, entitlement, and greed that’s implicit in commanding God to bless certain people and not others. It’s an acknowledgment that this kind of command is a slippery slope toward believing that we’re divinely called to rule or judge or oppress peoples who are not blessed by God (non-Americans.)

I realize that the “may” insert doesn’t relieve unhealthy theology all together. The idea that there’s a supernatural being out there that blesses some and not others – whether we command it or more subtly wish for it – is still harmful. But Obama’s on the right track toward a relationship with the divine that is more humble, more grounded, and focused on an integrated love for humanity and our earth.

A better, more holistic world one word at a time. One word at a time.

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