Last Tuesday (Nov. 1), the House of Representatives voted to reaffirm “In God We Trust” as this nation’s motto. The Washington Post reported the debate took about 35 minutes. While an act of Congress in 1956 established “In God We Trust” as our motto, it was reaffirmed in 2002 and then again in 2006. You can read the text of the resolution, H. Con. Res. 13, here.
It passed overwhelmingly, 396 to 9 (we should be so fortunate with more substantial legislation). And while it seems hardly controversial, I would have voted against it (and probably gotten pummeled in an election as being anti-God) because right now the motto seems so hollow. The larger question for me is what does “In God We Trust” really mean? Whose benefit is it for?
According to the article, the resolution’s sponsor, Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va), “said it would inspire Americans in tough economic times. ‘Our citizens need that kind of hope,’ he said, ‘and that kind of inspiration.’ (Washington Post)
Our faith in God gives us hope. In the face of horrible tragedy or circumstances, hope may be all that we have. With so many people out of work, people who are underemployed, houses under water, or otherwise struggling financially, hope is hard to find. Passing the president’s jobs bill might help. Dealing honestly with our federal budget to put it on a long term sustainable path through Medicare and Medicaid restructuring, recalibrating Social Security, making hard but necessary strategic decisions about our military, and raising taxes as well as restructuring them to reduce their current overt favoritism of the wealthy over the poor would help, too. Those actions alone may not lift the pall of despair that hangs over this nation, but they will help people feel that those in power have their interests at heart. They become clear signs that Congress wants to help lead this nation out of our national misery. However, if this resolution is the only hope Congressional leadership can offer, this is just pabulum.
Coincidentally, the psalm I read for my daily devotion today was Psalm 82 (Translation – Tanakh):
God stands in the divine assembly; among the divine beings He pronounces judgment. How long will you judge perversely, showing favor to the wicked? Judge the wretched and the orphan, vindicate the lowly and the poor, rescue the wretched and the needy; save them from the hand of the wicked. They neither know nor understand, they go about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth totter. I had taken you for divine beings, sons of the Most High, all of you; but you shall die as men do, fall like any prince. Arise, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are Your possession.
Trusting in God means living faithfully, responding to God’s call. God calls upon us to care for those who suffer or whose lives are gripped by poverty. We’re reminded in the Magnificat, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:50-53) Congress, especially the GOP, has blatantly demonstrated its preference for the rich over the poor. They seek to protect the wealthy. They shout “class warfare” when anyone advocates raising taxes on the rich, which is especially galling in that tax policies devised in 1984 have significantly contributed to the income and wealth disparity we see today. (See the report from the Congressional Budget Office.) They weakened the financial regulations (Dodd-Frank) passed in the wake of the 2008 recession, which came about because huge financial institutions took risks that when those deals fell apart the world’s economy went to the brink of a depression. Furthermore, they have blocked the President’s appointment to head the consumer agency – essentially stopping the legislation before it could get underway.
The resolution is not for us, but for Congress, especially the GOP. It’s for their self-reassurance that they trust in God because they have so obviously fallen short of lifting up the lowly and poor. Rather than rescue the wretched and the needy, they pursue policies that punish them or seek to preserve the disparity between rich and poor. (Why should some hedge fund manager pulling down tens of millions of dollars pay a lower percentage of his/her income than a secretary who makes tens of thousands of dollars because his/her income comes from capital gains rather than labor? How is it that a multi-billion dollar corporation like General Electric or Exxon pays more income tax than I?) They sought this resolution to assuage their failing to place their trust in God. They’re not doing what God asks of us; they’re working at purposes contrary to God’s. What hope does Congress offer us if all they can do is reaffirm what they did in 1956, 2002, and 2006? How is this meant to inspire us, especially when Congress has within its power to diminish the hardship and uncertainty so many people face today?
This resolution is a sign of their failure.