When it comes to Homeland Security, folks in Kentucky are not fooling around. Forget hiring more police officers or beefing up the resources of the National Guard. In Kentucky, the law states that in order to be safe from terrorists, it is necessary to believe in the power of Almighty God.
In 2006 state representative and pastor Tom Riner introduced language into the original legislation creating the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security. In two separate amendments, Riner made it clear that citizens of Kentucky cannot be safe unless they depend on the power of God to protect them.
Not long afterward 10 Kentucky residents and a national atheist group filed suit to have the God language removed from the statute. On Aug. 26, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled in their favor.
In his 18-page decision, Wingate wrote, “The statute pronounces very plainly that current citizens of the Commonwealth cannot be safe, neither now nor in the future, without the aid of Almighty God. Even assuming that most of this nation’s citizens have historically depended upon God, by choice, for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now.”
Demonstrating a devastatingly naive theology, Riner responded to the ruling by saying, “They make the argument that the statute has to do with religion and promoting a religion. God is not a religion. God is God.”
We’ll get back to the “God is not a religion” argument shortly. In the meantime, what are people thinking when they try to write into law what can only be embraced by faith?
The judge is right: most people probably do believe that our ultimate source of security comes from God. I certainly do, but not everyone does. And not everyone agrees how that security is ultimately mediated to us.
I am sure there are those who believe that God acts directly to affect changes in history. Others believe that God acts through people, institutions and systems to accomplish the divine will. In fact, it is this view that many use to account for the presence of evil in the world.
God may be perfect and infallible, but people and institutions are not. And because people and institutions sometimes fail, evil exists in the world. God could act in spite of human failure, but for whatever reason, chooses not to.
So in that regard the sentiment of Riner’s amendments is something people of faith may believe: God works through people and institutions like the office of Homeland Security to protect us. But making that idea the law of the land legislates what is best embraced as faith.
As for Riner’s assertion that God is not a religion, well that’s like the guy who said if farmers stopped growing food, he would just get his from the grocery store. There is no sense of God except for that which is mediated to us through communities of faith. A God without a community of faith is nothing more than a big cosmic mirror reflecting our own inflated ego.
Riner would not know that God is the ultimate source of our security without the prior existence of a Sunday school class that taught him that. And the minute you write “God” into any state or federal law, you attempt to send the whole country to Sunday school whether they want to go or not. And the Constitution says you can’t do that.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.