The prophet Hosea boldly told the people of his day that God was tired of being placated by their symbolic measures of worship.
Instead he told them, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
Hosea’s words are needed today, especially around state capitals where legislatures have been spurred on by religious groups, mostly Baptists it seems, who draw up legislation they believe is needed to keep our nation “Christian.”
For example, the Tennessee legislature is passing a measure on to the governor for his signature that will make the Bible the official book of the state, placing it next to the tomato as the state fruit, the mockingbird as the state bird, and the raccoon as the state wild animal.
Legislators in other states have submitted similar bills to their legislature for consideration.
All of these have been recognized by past bodies of government as being symbolic of what it means to be uniquely Tennessean, but the truth is, most people couldn’t tell you the name of their state fruit or their state bird. Most would have to Google it.
The irony of Christian lawmakers pushing to elevate the Bible as the state book is that this effort actually demotes it to the status of a symbol. When the Bible is nothing more than a symbol, this contributes to a moral decline.
Tennessee will never be a Christian state because a group of lawmakers set the Bible aside as the state book any more than the sacrifices of the people in Hosea’s day made them faithful in God’s eyes.
Instead of symbolic gestures, what if we actually loved people and worked for justice? Instead of forcing the Bible on people, what if we lived out its commandments?
In Hosea’s time, God was tired of receiving meaningless sacrifices. He was looking for a relationship with the people that would make a difference in their daily living. That hasn’t changed.
In a day when people are desperate for sacrificial leadership, integrity, fairness, justice, honesty, efficiency, cooperation and common sense, wouldn’t time be better spent in the Tennessee legislature and other states by looking in the Good Book to determine how these things can be accomplished rather than passing a law making the Holy Bible just another symbol of the state?
Christians in our branches of government need to remember they can’t make their state or our nation Christian through legislation. Constantine tried that long ago.
What if we wrote the words of the Bible on our hearts instead of relegating its words to symbols? This might be the greatest evidence that the people of any state are people of the book.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.