Cheapening God

by Jim Longworth

In December 2009, I wrote about the growing use of misplaced invocations. Now, four years later, that trend has not abated, so I’ve pulled my objections out of mothballs just in time for Christmas.

’Tis the holiday season when many of us celebrate and reflect upon our spirituality and religious beliefs. Some folks believe that God is responsible for everything man does, and for every event that occurs. Others believe that God gives man the capacity to make his own successes and messes. But regardless of your interpretation, most of us agree that prayer to God is being cheapened these days due to frequently misplaced invocations of His name.

As a nation we ask God to protect our currency, while Congress calls on Him to guide them through each legislative session. But does that mean God is responsible for our bad economy, or for the corruption and stupidity running rampant in politics?

The government asks God to be on our side when we go to war. But does this mean God planned for us to invade the wrong country in 2003, and murder over a million people in the process?

Athletes ask God to favor them before each contest, but does that mean the Almighty wants half of the sports teams to lose each week?

Meanwhile, some of our preachers ask God to punish folks who are different from the majority of us white bread, straight Americans. Does this mean God condoned slavery, and that He hates gays?

Increasingly, politicians, athletes and preachers seem to invoke God’s name inappropriately, and they do so unashamedly. Let’s start with sports.

Today, it is commonplace for a college football team to pray to God for a victory. Notre Dame even has a monument named “Touchdown Jesus.” But holy invocations are not limited to students who attend religious institutions. When scoring touchdowns for the University of Florida, Tim Tebow began each post-game interview by attributing his accomplishments to “My Lord Jesus Christ.”

But, football isn’t the only sport where God is called on to save the day. Baseball players routinely genuflect before stepping into the batter’s box, and point to heaven following a homerun blast.

And then there are the comments made by golfer Zach Johnson following his 2007 victory at the Masters. Johnson gave God the credit for his win, and added, “Regardless of what happened today, my responsibility was to glorify God.” Come on Zach, you were hitting a little white ball around, not doing missionary work in Darfur.

These athletes seem to think that God has willed them to victory, and that He is responsible for their success. Such invocations cheapen the Almighty, and make it difficult to understand why He can’t deliver every time. Athletes who use prayer for their own personal gain, therefore, put God in an untenable position.

So too, do Christian politicians and world leaders, who have justified their actions by hiding behind the Almighty. Following the World Trade Center attack, President Bush invoked God’s name repeatedly in an effort to gain support to invade an Islamic nation that had nothing to do with those attacks. On Sept. 20, 2001, Bush told a joint session of Congress: “God is not neutral.”

And while invoking God’s name to win a football game or a war is wrong on so many levels, I am almost equally offended by those who pretend to speak for God in matters of social conscience. quotes Rev. Pat Robertson as having said that the “widespread practice of homosexuality will bring about terrorists bombs, earthquakes, tornados and possibly a meteor.” It is that kind of sick rhetoric that continues to divide our nation and fuel prejudice.

For Christians, this is a time to celebrate the birth of a peaceful, compassionate and tolerant man. A man who never invoked his spiritual Father’s name for trivial pursuits, or to justify violence, or to condone prejudice. And just for the record, Jesus also never profited from invoking God’s name.

that practice was started in earnest by the Roman Catholic Church, who frightened their followers into tithing or else face the prospect of not entering heaven. And that pay-for-pray practice continues today with televangelists and motivational religious speakers who collect millions of dollars by promising their donors a better life and even increased wealth.

Prayer can be a wonderful thing, especially selfless prayers of intercession for others. In fact, nothing could be more noble than calling upon God to help those less fortunate. But misplaced prayer and inappropriate use of God’s name is far from noble.

Perhaps an appropriate News Year’s resolution would be for all of us to be more judicious with our divine invocations, and to reject the influences of those who aren’t. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).