Though it’s received scant coverage, it’s a profound statement: a Democratic lawmaker announced over the weekend he does not believe God belongs in the halls of Congress.
That is a watershed moment and one we — whether conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat — should not let pass by without really taking the time to comprehend.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, told The New York Times, “I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress.”
Cohen went on to say Republicans are “using God and God doesn’t want to be used.” Some Republicans, including Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who told his fellow lawmakers “we could use a little more of God, not less,” have pushed back against Cohen.
As well they should. Our faith is not insular; it is robust and capable of navigating the issues of the day, no matter how complex or controversial they may be. For the Christian, our faith is very personal, but it is never private.
We can debate the separation of church and state and its actual meaning ad nauseam — it’s been done countless times and it will no doubt continue to be argued. My main concern isn’t so much the objection to the phrase “so help me God” remaining in federal oaths (though it is my preference). Rather, my real issue is the dangerous suggestion God doesn’t belong in the public square.
In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
That one word — “go” — doesn’t mean to travel to your church or Christian community to share the Gospel. It means to venture out into the world, into the public square, and share the good news about Jesus. I don’t think the phrase “so help me God” is necessarily bringing people to Christ, but the belief God does not belong in Congress certainly will hinder the Christian’s calling.
The Bible, though, promises this will happen. James 1:2 says we “will face trials of many kinds” and 2 Timothy 3:12 says “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Scripture promises we will face adversity in this life, and our calling might be hindered, but the goal will be accomplished.
If what God says is true inside the walls of a church building, they are just as true on the outside. The church — the body of Christ — isn’t a brick-and-mortar location; it’s a living, breathing, growing representation of the Gospel.
Perhaps more than anywhere, God belongs in the halls of Congress, where lawmakers shape the legislation that will impact lives all around the globe. So help us God, I hope we see the danger in thinking so pridefully we can dictate where He resides.