One of the most disappointing political events I have witnessed this year as a Christian was the clumsy maneuvering yesterday by the Democratic National Convention to put “God and Jerusalem” back in their political platform after they had been taken out. I understand that they are desperate to prove that they are not less religious or committed to Israel’s absolute infallibility than God’s Only Party, but through this clumsy gesture, they have become part of the blasphemy by which God has been reduced to a campaign button. And because there was dissension in response to this attempt to pimp God, the crazies in the outrage industrial complex are going to be whipped into an even higher state of apocalyptic frenzy and continue to create stumbling blocks for the sharing of the gospel. Ann Coulter tweeted that the Democrat’s “God vote” fiasco should be the only political ad that Republicans run for the next two months. There was a time when Christians were the most passionate advocates of religious freedom in our country out of recognition that being a Christian has no meaning when it’s just part of one’s national citizenship; that was before Christians stopped being evangelists and became a special interest group instead.
I have often wondered about the history of interpreting the Third Commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain. When did it become about speaking impolitely rather than using God’s name for purposes that do not glorify Him like putting “God” into political platforms and saying “God bless America” at the end of speeches to score points with believers? I found an old blog post from the Credo House of Theology on this topic that has a good explanation of what the Third Commandment really means, so I thought I would share an excerpt:
The nations to which the Israelites were going had many gods. They were highly superstitious. Their prophets would often use the name of their god in pronouncements. The usage could be in a curse, hex, or even a blessing. They would use the name of their god to give their statements, whatever they may be, authority. To pronounce something in their own name would not have given their words much weight, but to pronounce something in the name of a god meant that people would listen and fear. They may have said, “In the name of Baal, there will be no rain for 40 days.” Or “In the name of Marduk, I say that you will win this battle.” This gave the prophet much power and authority…
God was attempting to prevent the Israelites from doing the same thing. God was saying for them not to use His name like the nations used the names of their gods. He did not want them to use His name to invoke false authority behind pronouncements. In essence, God did not want the Israelites to say that He said something that He had not said. This makes sense. God has a reputation to protect. He does not want anyone saying “Thus sayeth the Lord” if the Lord had not spoken…
What does this mean for us? Well, for starters we understand that the third commandment is certainly not focused on something so trivial as saying “God !@#$%^&* it!” The funny thing is that while some people may never think of using that phrase, people all over the Christian religious landscape are breaking the third commandment every day, damaging the Lord’s reputation. “Thus sayeth the Lord . . .” “God told me to tell you . . .” “God says that if you send in this much money, you will be blessed.” I could go on and on, but you get the point. Using the name of the Lord in vain means that you do damage to His reputation and character through false and unsure claims.
This is exactly how God’s name gets used in our political discourse: to give false authority to the person using it. The reason that Republicans are often in the dog house with me is because of the presumptuousness with which they consider God to be exclusively on their side, and the damage that this does to the ability of people who have bigger goals than winning elections to tell the lost and left-out that they have a God who loves them. So I’m grateful to whoever shouted and booed at the Democratic National Convention to try to prevent them from taking the Lord’s name in vain, whether they were doing so out of defense for the sanctity of the name or out of secularism. And I strongly urge all the other Christian bloggers out there who are pouncing at the opportunity to pronounce that the Democrats are officially the party of the godless to think about the disrespect for God’s name that you would be showing to make such a claim.
Furthermore, if I hadn’t grown up Christian and all that I had to go by in considering Christianity was its public witness over the past thirty years of culture war, then I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with God either. It is because I care about evangelism that I am upset about the unnecessary stumbling blocks that Christians are creating. If Christianity is reduced to a small remnant of American society in the next two generations, those of us who have damaged God’s name by using Him as a campaign button will be held accountable when we stand before Him. I wish that President Obama had had more spine to stand up for the Third Commandment.