Dear Gov. Brownback,
Sorry I missed the big “Day of Restoration” event in Topeka last weekend.
You know, the one you made the video for, encouraging us to “pray to God in humility and in unity” to ask for his favor. The one sponsored by a group called ReignDown USA, which originated as a “vision” in which, according to its website, “every state in our nation would come together with one purpose: To worship, pray and seek God’s forgiveness and mercy (repent).”
Here’s the deal, Sam. (May I call you Sam? You’re so predictable that I feel like I know you personally.) When you as governor issue a formal proclamation in which you state that as Kansans, “we collectively repent of distancing ourselves from God and ask for His mercy on us,” you’re doing more than making a mockery of church-state separation. You’re also making a few questionable assumptions.
First, you’re assuming that we have something to repent about. I’m not sure what that might be, given that most Kansans I know are hard-working, honest people who love their families, want the best for their communities and seek to teach their children the values of compassion and kindness.
Then there’s that whole “distancing ourselves from God” thing. Really, Sam? Are you aware that the U.S. is considered by far the most religious country in the Western world, and that Kansas is among the most religious areas of the U.S.? Our Pledge of Allegiance and our currency both proclaim a devotion to God, and thousands of church parking lots across America overflow every Sunday.
Preachers dominate channel after channel on Sunday mornings, and 24-hour faith-based cable networks keep that theme going throughout the week. We have a Congressional Prayer Caucus and a National Prayer Breakfast, as well as countless Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts. Billboards and bumper stickers proclaim faith far and wide, and a large majority of Americans say they believe in God. Church-based schools are thriving, and even in the public schools, teachers have to fight constant battles with people who for some reason think scientific facts should bend to accommodate religious sensitivities.
That’s why I’m so puzzled about your statement, in the video, that “too often, we’ve forgotten God.” Your words were accompanied by satellite images of what appeared to be superstorm Sandy and photos of rubble. You invited us to join you “in humility, not pointing fingers at anybody except ourselves.”
Well, Sam, I’m not going to point a finger at myself, because time spent pointing fingers is time not spent making the world a better place. Also, unlike a presumably all-powerful deity, I did not have the ability to prevent Sandy, or the drought that you mentioned in your proclamation, or any other widespread disaster. I — and all of us — can only work on picking up the pieces, improving one tiny corner of the world at a time.
That’s why, on your Day of Restoration, I went Christmas shopping for a family that was “adopted” for the holidays by a group I’m involved with.
Know what that family wanted, Sam? A laundry basket. And detergent.
That wasn’t the entire wish list, of course. The family has four children, so they need a lot of things. “Need” is the key word here. Most of the list consisted of things like winter clothing and boots, and there were a few very modest toy requests. Oh, and an iron. They don’t have an iron.
I have no idea how the family ended up in this situation, but I can say with certainty that the group that adopted them for the holidays is not counting on God to make that situation better. It’s an atheist group that does volunteer work, donates to charities, sponsors blood drives and tries to help families for whom a box of laundry detergent is seen as a gift.
Yes, it’s fair to say that the members of this group have turned their back on God, at least to the extent that you can turn your back on something you fail to see evidence for. But they haven’t turned their back on human need, on compassion and on our collective responsibility to help one another.
I have a question, Sam: To what extent do you, as governor of Kansas, feel responsible for helping the families you spoke so passionately about in that video? You mentioned asking God’s “favor and assistance in these difficult times,” and in your Day of Restoration proclamation, you asked “every citizen of our state to join in asking a Holy God to bring healing and restoration — help in mending broken lives, bringing peace to our families, our communities, and this land.”
Yet you and those of your political ilk continue to fight tooth and nail to cut state programs that could help mend those broken lives. You speak of a nation that has turned its back on God, but what I see is a nation that has too often turned its back on its own people.
That’s just some food for thought, Sam. In light of these facts, it would appear that asking for God’s mercy might not be the most practical way of solving our problems. That’s not to say that religious organizations don’t do a great deal of good in the community; they often do, but it’s when their hands are working, not when they’re praying.
In closing, Sam, I hope you enjoyed your Day of Restoration. And in keeping with the spirit of the statement in your video, I hope you didn’t point a finger at anyone except yourself.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.