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.