Commentary

Christian leader to state lawmakers: No more mottos

Rev. Jennifer Copeland

Hours after teachers marched on Raleigh to talk about funding needs for their schools, their students, and, yes, even themselves, a bill (House Bill 965) was introduced in the General Assembly to place mottos, national (“In God We Trust”) and state (“Esse quam videri”—”To Be Rather Than to Seem”), on the walls of our public schools. The teachers and their allies didn’t have that one on their list and it’s no wonder why.

In a country whose dominant norm is Christianity, the loudest current version being evangelicalism verging on fundamentalism, the word “God” conjures up images of “Our Father who art in heaven.” Hence, the motto “In God We Trust” is not benign, as some would have us believe. For those whose god is other than “our father,” whose beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, a bit of mental translation is necessary to reinterpret the motto’s meaning to fit one’s own religious tradition. For those who have no religious tradition, whose beliefs also are protected by the First Amendment, the motto is an affront.

For those who DO believe the tenets of Trinitarian Christianity, we don’t need a sign at school telling us who we trust. Families and faith communities offer ample opportunity in the course of a week to reinforce that trust—worship, prayer, Bible studies, fellowship gatherings, small group studies, etc. There’s plenty of trust in God found among the congregations affiliated with the North Carolina Council of Churches and we can provide ample resources to help build more trust.

It’s a clever ploy to appropriate a motto already found on every coin in every child’s pocket, but this particular motto has its own loaded history worth understanding before we start plastering it on our public school walls. Read more