“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
On this January 20, 2021 the United States of America will swear in its newly elected leaders of this free world. The Wednesday after many in the nation celebrated the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we will watch with anticipation and anxiety the oath of office being recited by Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joseph Biden. The statement above are the words that our Congressional Representatives and the Vice President will speak as they enter into the role of decision making and leadership. The President will speak an abbreviated version of this as well.
I was reflecting on the last statement of this oath, on the very last words uttered by the leadership elected by individuals and groups to run this country called the United States of America: “So help me God.” This statement is a prayer, a plea, a confession and statement of faith all wrapped up into one. This is not an article to discuss who God is to the person uttering these words, but a reflection or rather a question: Do we still trust God?
We are a nation founded under the want for religious freedom to believe and worship the God we profess to follow, but the last four years and then some, have me (and maybe others) scratching my head wondering if God is still in the mix. God was the basis for folks deciding which candidate to vote for in the 2016 election. Touting God has divinely called someone to lead over another seems reflective of 1 Samuel 8. Now, you bible scholars can argue that community in 1 Samuel was asking for a sovereign, a king, whereas the United States government was formed in protest of this rule of governing. The part I want to highlight is that God had led a nation of people to be governed by trusting in who God is and the people stopped trusting in that way of leadership. The lack of trust has led the world to see all types of leadership and government. As Americans, we ask our elected officials to swear an oath not only to the written regulations that establish us as a nation (The Constitution), but we ask our officials to be led by God. We ask them to offer this prayer and plea; this confession and affirmation of faith that it is God who guides them in executing the demands placed on them to be a leader.
This statement of faith is noted and carried on every person in the form of currency; that it is “In God We Trust” and not solely our own ideals and leanings. It is this trust in God that demands that we seek justice and care for the welfare of every human being. So, the question still remains to be asked: Do we still trust God? Or rather yet, have we ever? The events of two weeks ago to the day reminds us and spotlights the evils of this country. The terrorist attack on the United States Capitol building was evidence that rule of law only applies to the darker-skinned marginalized groups among us. Our inability to police white skin and to speak words of correction highlights the disparities black and brown folks have been crying out against for centuries. Yet, this is the group to claim to love God and country the most. White men who have stood up as the moral exemplar of what true followers of God should look like and how they should act. This group laid siege to the building and very ideals they purported to hold so dear. Their actions showed total distrust not just in the system set up by those who looked like them (their forefathers), but in the hope and belief that God would see them through the defeat of their political leader. In 2016, so many were told to trust God and the process. To give the newly elected President and political party a chance to govern. How quickly we forget our words. How quickly we forget the pleas we cried out to God to “help us” or to “save us” when we were in the midst of the unthinkable. That “so help me God” prayer became null and void on January 6th when the world watched the United States show just how divided we really are.
So, the question before us now is, Will we trust God? As we move forward in the transfer of power within our government, will the believers of God trust that God is directing our leadership? As we enact our laws against those who sought to incite us into another Civil War against our neighbors, will the believers in God trust that reconciliation and healing will come? May we have a Job 37 moment; a moment where we remind ourselves that the works of God are unfathomable to human understanding. A moment where we acknowledge that it is by trusting in God to command, to correct, to create that we shall not fear tomorrow. A moment where we truly try to seek justice and care for all of those living within our borders. This election was our clarion call to ask ourselves as believers, who do you trust? It is my prayers that our response and more importantly our actions show that our trust is in God.
Gracious and loving God,
We are not the first nation to turn away from you and we know we will not be
the last generation.
Forgive us for seeking a different way of being governed and led.
Forgive us for giving more power and precedence to our elected officials than to being the people you have called us to be.
Do not turn your back on us O, God. Do not close your ears to the prayers and supplications of those who believe and follow your guidance.
Hear our prayer in this moment, dear God. Hear our prayer to press your desires into the hearts and minds of our newly elected leaders. Make your will be done through their policies and actions.
Let them pray to you on a daily basis “so help me God” and listen to you to direct their ways.
Merciful God heal our broken land and broken system of being.
Send resources to the sick, the poor, the homeless, the orphaned.
Give justice to the oppressed, the family of those murdered, the jailed.
Reconcile us back to you
Heal us to become the community that loves and looks out for one another
Help us to trust in you again.
Melva Lowry is a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA). She’s a ruling elder in the Greater Atlanta Presbytery at Rice Memorial. Mel holds 3 Masters from 2 PCUSA affiliated seminaries. She recently served as one of the Hands and Feet Fellows for the 224th General Assembly.