Hobby Lobby has a cute little God-n-Country advert, something it has apparently taken out in newspapers across the country since 1997, extolling the virtues of a patriotic faith. Which they are, of course, free and entitled to do.
Regular readers here — assuming there are any — will know that I am not a fan of “God and Country” Christianity, since it tends to put country first (with God somewhere behind in a supporting role). Or, worse, it confuses the two, not knowing quite where God (or the Church, the people God) stops and country starts. This isn’t so much Christianity as it is a civil religion, a mishmash of Enlightenment nationalism and the popular protestantism of America’s founding, a swirling concoction of Scottish and English Calvinism, the rigors of Methodism, and the fervor of the Baptists. I will leave the genealogy for another day, however.
The Hobby Lobby advert begins with a quote from Pslams:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD. (Psalm 33:12)
This isn’t the whole verse, which is actually:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! (33:12, ESV)
Which is Hebrew, reads thusly:
אַשְׁרֵ֣י הַ֭גּוֹי אֲשֶׁר ־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֑יו הָעָ֓ם בָּחַ֖ר לְנַחֲלָ֣ה לֽוֹ
The word here translated as “nation” is גוי goy, which is almost always rendered as εθνος ethnos in Greek (when Jesus or Paul or any of the other NT speakers or writers refer to “the nations”), and in the Hebrew Bible it tends to mean those people who are not Israel. But not always. God promises Abraham in Genesis 12:2 that “I will make you a great nation” (וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל) a goy gidol. In Exodus 19:6, God speaks to Israel through Moses, telling the Israelites that “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ) a goy qodesh. So Israel, the People of God (usually refered to as an עם, which tends to mean a people related by kinship and a shared patrimony), can be a goy too.
Psalm 33 is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise, marking God as just (vv. 4-5), creator (vv. 6-9), then finally the redeemer of Israel (vv.10-19), finishing with a proclamation that because the LORD is good, we who are the people saved and redeemed by the LORD, will wait with patience, gladness and hope (vv. 20-22).
An interesting aside, the passage praising God for being Israel’s redeemer contains very a scriptural condemnation of sophisticated and powerful armies, and that true salvation always lies with the LORD:
The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. (vv. 16-17)
I think Hobby Lobby in quoting the first part of v. 12, is trying to make a fairly simple statement — that America is blessed because The LORD is our God. Or at least the God of real, faithful, proper Americans.
The problem with this is the second part of the verse: the people for whom he has chosen as his heritage. This is a very specific reference, a reference to Israel, the people — עם and/or גוי — that God called into being with the promises of land, children and “being a blessing” to Abraham as he wandered. The people that God redeemed from slavery in Egypt, gave the teaching to at Sinai, rescued from oppression again and again during the time of Judges, promised a final redemption from exile in the lineage of David the King. God has chosen a people, it is Israel and the Church, the εκκλησια, the assembled people God brought together through baptism and calling in the person of Jesus Christ.
It is not the United States of America. I know many American Christians wish to believe that, at some point in our history, God inked a covenant with America, but I’ve seen nothing resembling proof that such covenant exists. Just mere assertions, and none of them hold the weight of scripture or revelation. The owners of Hobby Lobby may believe in such a covenant, the Americans are the people of God merely by being Americans (or they should be), and they are welcome to that faith. But that is not a Christian faith. Americans as Americans are not the people of God — they are a גוי or an εθνος in the negative sense. A people who are other, who are not.
Americans, of course, can be part of the people of God. But their inclusion is the result of baptism or some other kind of calling, and not because they were born as Americans, had the right parents, came from the right kind of community, or believe the right things. American citizenship does not contain in it the promise of eternal life, or the Kingdom of God.
And the owners of Hobby Lobby may, if pushed, actually admit to that. But the advert, as it stands, it a testament to an idolatrous civic faith that tries to turn the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into the God of Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan, a God who always sides with state and blesses it unconditionally regardless of what it does.
Well, except when it legalizes abortion, allows homosexuals to get legally married, and demands companies provide birth control for their employees.