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God bless America—and everyone else, for that matter

by Perry Engle

The pastor, it seemed, could hardly contain his excitement. “We have ‘God Bless America’ bumper stickers for each of you this morning! I was going to hand them out on Patriotism Sunday the weekend of July Fourth, but I forgot. There is a huge stack in the back, so make sure you pick some up after the worship service!”

I was on vacation in a church I’d never before attended and wasn’t expecting to be given a “God Bless America” sticker after the closing benediction.

The phrase “God Bless America” has become so ubiquitous in American life, especially in evangelical circles, that I wasn’t too surprised by what the stickers said. As the preferred closing line to almost every presidential speech I can remember, the phrase seems to have come to represent all that we would hope for America as a nation. (As an aside, I found it curious that during my recent time in Canada, I didn’t see one “God Bless Canada” sticker. The only thing I could figure was that they might all be in French and I just couldn’t read them.)

At first glance, “God Bless America” seems to be a prayer along the lines of: “Lord, we petition you to bless America so that it might be a blessing to others.” It’s similar to what God speaks to Abram in Genesis 12:2 and 22:18 when He declares, “I will bless you . . . and you will be a blessing. . . . through your offspring, all nations on the earth will be blessed.” I like the idea of praying for our nation to be blessed so that it might truly be a blessing to others—especially at election time.

But there seem to be other meanings that have crept into the phrase as well, and these tend to make me more uneasy. In some circles, “God Bless America” seems to have come to mean “God Bless Our Way of Life.” It also seems to hint at “God Bless Our Military”—and sometimes, “God Bless Our War Effort.” I would feel much more comfortable with “God Bless Our Troops By Bringing Them All Home Safely Just As Soon As Possible,” but I’m not sure all of that would fit on to one bumper sticker.

If “God Bless America” truly is a prayer for a needy nation, I’m wondering why we couldn’t come up with a series of bumper stickers for other needy nations as well. One might read “God Bless Mexico” and another “God Bless Iraq.” Actually, the phrase that might summarize it best is on a sticker that I still display in my office. It reads, “God Bless the Whole World—No Exceptions.”

I thought about making up some “God Bless Zimbabwe” stickers. Of any nation I know, this embattled south-African country surely needs the Lord’s blessing right now. I’m wondering if I FedEx-ed a stack to that church I attended on vacation, would the pastor hand some of them out after his next service.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2008 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

If Perry Engle’s car had a bumper sticker, it would read: “FORGET WORLD PEACE; VISUALIZE USING YOUR TURN SIGNAL.” Perry is bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences of the BIC Church. He and his wife, Marta, and three daughters, live in Ontario, Calif.

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