Happy 4th of July!

Independence Day is a good time to celebrate what has made the United States what it is today- a place where people of all tribes, cultures, languages, religions (and no religion) come together in respect and appreciation for the richness of our diversity and the strength of our shared work.

I’m especially grateful to the Founders, who spelled out clearly that the US was not a “Christian” nation, not in the business of advocating for any particular religious perspective, and not allowed to prevent any citizen from exercising (or choosing not to exercise) their religious convictions.

Of course, not everyone feels the way I do. For example, the folks who produced The American Patriot’s Bible. Edited by a Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia, the American Patriot’s Bible is an unvarnished effort to link God and Country in the manner that serves neither well.

According to the publisher, the American Patriot’s Bible “intersects the teachings of the Bible with the history of the Unites States while applying it to today’s culture.” According to Steve Rabey of the Religion News Service, interspersed in the text of the New King James Bible are “some 300 articles about such topics as  `The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ the right to keep and bear arms, the war in Iraq and religious broadcasting.”

And it’s not only liberal types like myself who are wary of the project. In a review at Christianity Today, Dr. Greg Boyd, author of The Myth of a Christian Nation, says:

Every special interest Bible imposes a certain agenda that to some degree colors the Word, but the Patriot’s Bible takes this “coloring” to a whole new level. There’s not a single commentary in this Bible that even attempts to shed light on what the biblical text actually means. To the contrary, the text of the Bible is used merely as an excuse to further the patriotic agenda of the commentators.

On the website for the Patriot’s Bible, it is possible to preview some of the pages of the book. The two sample pages with actual biblical text are from Exodus. One page uses the institution of the Passover Observance, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.”  (Ex 12:14) as the basis for a comment on the reason for Memorial Day observances. On Exodus 20 (one version of the Decalogue), it notes that Harry Truman had the Bible open to this passage when he was sworn it, and that in the Colony of New York in 1665, observance of the Sabbath was required by law. What, exactly, does Memorial Day have to do with Passover? What was Harry Truman thinking? And it was laws like those in New York that led to the First Amendment. As Boyd notes:

The Patriot’s Bible never tires of offering the reader quotes from various famous people in American history who believed all of this, but this simply begs the question. Why should we today regard the claims to divine favor found throughout our history as any different than similar claims made by political leaders of countries and tribes throughout history?

Religious life in America is arguably the most engaged, active, and lively in the world. And it is my firm conviction that the reason that is so is because we have found room for other perspectives, and have had to support and sustain our religious commitments without the interference or the support of the government.

Happy Independence Day!

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