Removing 'God' and Letting God In
On the heels of the Republican National Convention, where the shadow of the Religious Right still ominously looms, it was notable that the Democratic National Convention opened with a debate over the absence of the divine name. It seems that the (original) official platform of the Democratic National Party had completely left God out.
Or, should I say, they completely left "God" out.
Whether God was actually M.I.A. is a profound theological and important question beyond the scope of semantic cameos. Yet the failure to baptize their platform with the faith-filled language of Charlotte, N.C.’s evangelical culture created quite a stir, both within and beyond convention walls.
Leading the charge for the defense of the divine was none other than Paul Ryan, who made the claim that the omission of "God" was "not in keeping with our founding documents."
Apparently, Mr. Ryan was not including the obscure document known as the Constitution, which contains no reference to God.
Speaking of a "God" that gives us the opportunity to make the most of our potential . . . (read: win the election).
Not everyone, however, was happy about the Democrats' urge to reclaim "God."
Surprisingly, one of the few people from history who could match the anti-evangelistic rhetoric of recently deceased provocateur Christopher Hitchens was another reviled provocateur . . . Jesus of Nazareth. (Perhaps it's a little more than ironic that the other word so unceremoniously pressed upon the platforms of both parties is "Jerusalem," that historical intersection of the most unholy of alliances between Church and State where none other than Jesus was sentenced to execution.)
Interestingly enough, Jesus seemed to have His own issues with a “name-it-and-claim-it” brand of theology that puts the linguistic stamp of divine approval on our half-hearted attempts at securing peace, justice, and (more often) prosperity. Famously identified as the “Messianic Secret,” Jesus is often found (especially in the Gospel of Mark) encouraging his entourage to not spread his name around (cf. Mark 1:34, 44, 3:11-12, 7:36, 8:30). With a PR campaign like this, it’s no wonder he never ascended the political ladder of Galilee.
Lest we attribute Jesus’ reluctance to a kenotic humility that was somehow other-than-Godly, we do well to remember that, despite granting primeval humanity the power to name the animals, God seems to never have offered such a deal when it came to naming the divine. Far from it, when God finally offers a name to a pleading, PR-starved Moses, God offers the mysterious, near-untranslatable YHWH, which is roughly God’ way of saying, “Give up hope, all ye who hope to name Me!” (cf. Exodus 3).
Shortly after, the wandering Hebrews received a similar message in the form of a commandment: “Do not take the name of YHWH in vain,” or, as the Contemporary English Version renders it, “Do not misuse my name.” Perhaps no commentary on this passage offers more prescient insight for us today than that of Joy Davidman, who explained nearly 60 years ago, “There can hardly be a more evil way of taking God’s name in vain than . . . presuming to speak in it.”
As a striking repartee to my evangelical sensibilities, it would seem that once we speak "God," we have already misspoken.
With that in mind, with the fires of both political and religious rhetoric warming at a frenzied pace, may the unquenchable Fire of God’s just-beyond-our-grasp Spirited Word remind us . . .
God is not a platform piece.
God is not an appeal to a voting bloc.
God is neither housed in a tabernacle or a convention center.
God is alive and mysterious, playing in ten thousand places, dwelling even in the midst of the darkest partisan haunts.
God is unbound and unbinding, tearing Kingdom-sized holes in the fabric of partisan platforms, not with vitriolic wrath but with a sacrificial cross.
God is on the loose, behind the barricades of Charlotte and accompanying strippers home in Tampa.
God is hidden, but constantly bidding us to join in a divine game of hide-and-seek.
May we be ever seeking, ever finding, never ceasing, never settled.
And may God be free from “God.”
Dave McNeely is Minister to Youth and College Students, First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Tenn., and Adjunct Religion Professor at Carson-Newman College.
Republican and Democratic platform illustrations, Jeffrey Collingwood / Shutterstock.com