Biden Omitting “God” From Day of Prayer: Good or Bad?

May 14, 2021 by David Fowler

Biden Omitting “God” From Day of Prayer: Good or Bad?
The timing could not have been better if I had planned it. Last week was the National Day of Pray and, as required by law, President Biden issued a Proclamation calling on citizens to pray. He also gave a short address, but in neither did he use the word “God.” Franklin Graham and Catholic League president Bill Donohue both commented on the omission, but what would the inclusion of that word have really meant? Is there a valuable lesson Christians can learn from the omission?

What did Graham and Donohue say?

Bill Donohue said the President’s failure to even mention God was “inexplicable at best and objectionable at worst.
Franklin Graham said, in a Facebook post, “I was deeply saddened to read that President Biden is the first president to omit the word 'God' in his proclamation.

What God got left out?

As a Christian, their comments are certainly understandable, but I started thinking what inclusion of the word “God” would have added to the Proclamation or Biden’s address theologically?  
Both Catholics and Protestants believe in a very particular conception of God as one essence existing in three distinct persons. Both believe that apart from the revelation of God that we have in the Second Person of the Trinity we have no true knowledge of God and, without His death and resurrection, no one would have access to God (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18, 3:12).
"God" is a fine word, but for Catholics and Protestants, theologically speaking it is an idle word, referring only to idols unless rooted in a Trinitarian conception of God. Scripture calls other conceptions of God mere creations of our vain and futile imaginations, i.e., idols (Romans 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:4; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
I believe that by leaving the word "God" out, Christians were given something to think about that they might not otherwise have considered, namely, has our culture reduced Christianity to nothing more than a “civil religion” that is used by the state for the sake of the state rather than the glory of God and what are the implications to us if "God" is used and understood in that way. 

The ‘God’ of Civil Religion

Civil religion was a topic in John Jacques Rousseau’s book The Social Contract. Here is how he wrote about the importance of religion in relation to the need to maintain adherence to the social contract by which he said society and its institutions were ordered (Book IV, Chapter 8): 
[T]he sovereign has no concern with what may lie in wait for its subjects in the life to come, provided they are good citizens in this life. 

So there’s a purely civil profession of faith, the content of which should be fixed by the sovereign—not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments that are needed for to be a good citizen and a faithful subject. (emphasis added)
He continued by explaining what this “civil profession” needed to include and exclude:
The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly worded, with no explanation or commentary. Its positive dogmas are: 

•the existence of a mighty, intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, 
•the life to come,
•the happiness of the just,
•the punishment of the wicked,
•the sanctity of the social contract and the laws. 

And just one dogma of exclusion, namely the exclusion of intolerance, which is a feature of the cults we have rejected. 

Now that there no longer are, and no longer can be, any exclusive national religions, tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship. 

But here are the grim results of a “civil religion.” Rosseau’s words read as if they could have been written yesterday:
While it can’t compel anyone to believe them, it can banish from the state anyone who doesn’t believe them—banishing him not for impiety but for being anti-social, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and if necessary sacrificing his life to his duty. 

Then he added a few words that sound like our cancel culture—profession of belief is not enough:
If anyone publicly recognises (sic) these dogmas and then behaves as if he doesn’t believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes—lying before the law. (emphasis added)

Of course, this civil religion’s resort to banishment for disbelief and death for hypocrisy is as intolerant as Rousseau ever thought Christianity to be, but for Christians, this should sound a lot like what Francis Schaeffer wrote in How Shall We Then Live about the “civil" religion in Rome:
Let us not forget why the Christians were killed. They were not killed because they worshiped Jesus. . . . Nobody cared who worshiped whom so long as the worshiper did not disrupt the unity of the state, centered in the formal worship of Caesar. The reason the Christians were killed was because they were rebels. . . They worshiped Jesus as God and they worshiped the infinite-personal God only. The Caesars would not tolerate this worshiping of the one God only. It was counted as treason.” (emphasis added)

Getting Back to God

I’m reminded of a pastor who once described the Triune God as being like the Queen of England: God was good for pomp and circumstance, but when it came to how the country should be run, we were the Prime Minister.

Biden’s omission may have done the Christian Church some good. 

First, the omission had the value of not allowing the God in which Christians believe to become confused in the minds of people with a made-up God that the state can use to justify allegiance to the state. 

Second, it helps Christians better understand the Biden administration. The omission indicates that a conception of God is irrelevant to prayer or, perhaps conversely, that any conception of God will do the trick so “God” need not be mentioned. 

Third, it makes Christians consider why inclusion of the word “God” would be important to us. If any Christian thinks all would have been okay had Biden used the word “God,” then perhaps heed should be given to the words of the prophet Jeremiah in regard to the value of religious words used by the Jews (Jeremiah 4:4-9):
Do not trust in these lying words, saying, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.”

For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit.

Triune God, help us, for salvation belongs to you (Psalm 3:8, Romans 1:16).

David Fowler is an attorney and served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006

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