Letter to the Editor

4 11 2015

Below is a letter to the editor I recently wrote for my hometown newspaper, the Maryville Daily Forum.

While now living in Kansas City, I grew up in Maryville (all my education from fifth grade to college was in Maryville), and I have family and friends in the city. I still feel very connected to Maryville. It is a great place with a wonderful past and bright future. For this reason, I could not let the news pass that the Sheriff’s Department will be placing the motto, “In God We Trust” on patrol cars.


While the Sheriff indicates that, “There are always going to be people who want to be in opposition just for the sake of the argument,” (Maryville Daily Forum, 21 August 2015), let me assure readers, I am not just against this action because I am against things and just to be on the other side. Instead, several good reasons exist for the Sheriff’s Department to reconsider this decision, which is a bad option for Maryville . . . and for God too.

First, this decal indicates that an official government authority is explicitly endorsing a particular religious perspective. Maryville is a wonderfully diverse community; both the local residents and the university student body illustrate this point. So not everyone the patrol cars visit will share this motto’s perspective. We live in a pluralistic society in which a key characteristic of maintaining healthy relationships and hospitality is through empathy. Can we empathize with how others might perceive this endorsement? If a person is not God-believing, will he or she receive the same response time? Will a God-Truster get quicker response and more protection? While I am sure equality of service and protection will be given to all without discrimination, this religious endorse can raise questions, especially in the minds of those who often feel marginalized because of different religious traditions and practices.

Second, to place this decal/motto on patrol cars indicates that the Sheriff’s Department may not be a diverse place of employment. Some Sheriff Department employees (if not now perhaps in the future) might be Buddhist, Moslems, or Sikhs. Would the Department place “Allah is Great” or “Buddha the Compassionate” on the bumper of a patrol car?

Third, if the Sheriff’s Department wants a motto that inspires and encourages, several great mottos exist that would speak to the department’s goal of serving the community of Maryville. Perhaps the Missouri state motto would be appropriate, “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law of the land” (thanks to my eighth grade teacher of Missouri history for my remembering this motto). Maybe the brief but powerful statement, “To Protect and to Serve” would be good. These statements let those who see the cars coming, and who are often in crisis situations, know help is on the way.

Fourth, From a theological perspective (now I am preaching), God is much more interested in how one lives versus repeating mottos often heard as shallow bumper sticker theology. Slogan theology is not new. In the sixth century B.C., the prophet Jeremiah responded to those in Jerusalem who wanted to plaster decals on their donkey carts that said, “The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:4). As the prophet reminded folks, security of the nation (then and now) is not founded on simple mottos, but on whether one acts justly, does not oppress, and helps the vulnerable of society. Trust in God is best demonstrated not by decals but by acts of mercy that originate in empathy for another.

I urge the Sheriff’s Department to reconsider this decision.



6 responses

4 11 2015

This is wonderfully reasoned and articulated. I enjoyed reading it very much. Thank you for being a voice of common sense- something I fear is all too often overlooked among the zealous.

4 11 2015
Leroy Seat

Good for you! An important letter, well written. But was it printed in the paper so it could be read by many people?

4 11 2015
David May

It was. I received some feedback–mostly positive.

5 02 2016

I hope they changed their policy. I would add one thing to you list. Are the police of Maryville so confident in their actions that they are willing to stake God’s reputation on them? One photo in the newspaper of an officer, firearm smoking, next to that bumper sticker, with a headline about some innocent bystander shot, well . . .

5 02 2016
David May

Thanks for the comment. I like the addition to the list; it’s a great point. As far as I know, they have not changed their policy. And since my editorial appeared in the Maryville Daily Forum, I drive very carefully in Maryville.

6 02 2016
Jim Wood

Thanks David for a well thought out article. It seems someone is always misusing the word, name God. People can’t seem to help themselves from inserting the word God in and on public sayings, pledges, coins, etc.

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