ome of the polemics from the Senate race in the state of Georgia included the, resurrected and misappropriated statement that the Reverend Doctor Raphael Warnock made in a sermon 10 years ago.
At the crescendo of his sermon, Warnock said “You can’t serve God and the military…” . That statement has been used as the catapult to launch assertions that he is not patriotic and should not be elected to represent the state of Georgia as a Senator.
He did say those words, but, context still matters. The larger point that he was making in that sermon was that divided loyalty is idolatry. Misplaced priorities displace integrity. When principles and policy conflict, the principle should take precedence.
If his sentiments, 10 years ago were, indeed, antithetical to patriotism, his body of work as a committed community activist and as an advocate for justice, equality, equanimity, health care and a living wage would be non sequiturs.
Civil Servants in the Bible
The argument is a ruse and a straw man. The Biblical example of Joseph comes to mind first. Clearly disadvantaged by his imprisonment, he providentially rose to the highest ranks of Egyptian government. He served with the same honest discernment in the courts of Pharaoh as he did in Potiphar’s house, or even the home of his own father.
What about Saul and David? Both warriors and kings. Both men whom God selected to serve Him by leading the nation of their birth. Curiously, while serving in defense of their nation, both failed. Both were punished, not because of their military service, but, because of their personal folly. Saul did not recover. David was redeemed.
Then, remember Naaman, the leper. He was a decorated soldier and advisor to his king, prior to his conversion. As he is leaving the prophet Elisha, he asks for an indulgence because he served at the pleasure of his king, who was an idolater. Rather than condemn, excoriate or counsel him to quit his job, Elisha simply says to Him “Go in peace!”
Clearly, in Elisha’s mind, it is possible to serve God and serve patriotically, simultaneously. To be a civil servant, soldier, police officer, fireman or other first responder is not a sin. In fact, performing civic duty is really where the rubber on the wheels of Christian faith meet the roads of practical spirituality.
We Will All Be Judged for Integrity and Body of Work
Deeds done in the course of civil service, or, a thought passionately expressed during a sermon, are not the only things that God uses to judge a person’s body of work and character. We should similarly seek to balance the body of someone’s work against 30 seconds of rhetoric, detached from its original context.
Whoever wins the election in Georgia, like the other 99 U. S. Senators, will take a patriotic oath similar to the one that all military people take. It says:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
Whatever the bent, heretofore, those who win elections to serve the people of a community make a commitment to protect the interest of their constituents and to serve with the best interest of the least among them in mind. The pivotal question to consider is whether the weight of rhetoric is heavier than the laborie corpus. Does a sentence weigh more than a lifestyle and a lifetime of committed and visible service? Patriotism is found when we act in support of the common good to advance the process of creating a more perfect union. That is a goal in harmony with the will of God.