By Bill Mefford
Each week (hopefully), I will look at a chapter in a book of the Minor Prophets, moving through them chronologically. As it should be with the Prophets, I will reflect on what they are saying in their context and relate it to ours.
You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:1)
As discussed in our reflection on Amos 2, Israel has lost the uniqueness of their relationship with God. By using the same repetitious language for all nations as Amos does for Israel, he makes all nations before God equal - none more unique than any other. This is, of course, significant for a number of reasons, but especially for those who still today persist in the false belief that just as God chose Israel and made them God's people in the Old Testament, God has a new chosen people - the United States.
There is a toxicity within the U.S. church that claims God's blessings simply because of geography; of having been born in the United States (and who, unbelievably, want to restrict sharing that blessing with those not born in the United States). This belief states that God's blessing has been transferred from Israel in the Old Testament to the United States today via Jesus' founding of the church in the New Testament and the spread of the gospel to the new world in the 15th Century and the establishment of the new country and the ensuing Great Awakenings. That's a heck of a lot of history packed into one sentence, but even more troubling is the biblical gymnastics you have to do in order to make sense of American exceptionalism and the belief that the United States is the new chosen people.
Those who hold to this false notion believe that Israel should still hold a special place in the hearts of the newly chosen - kind of like a soft spot for the "chosen-people-runners-up," so we shower them with billions of military aid annually. Of course, nothing says, "God loves you almost as much as God loves us" like heavy artillery.
The belief in American exceptionalism and the chosenness of the United States makes us feel good about ourselves - how could it not? But it is false and frankly, dangerous. Second only to bifurcating the poor into "worthy" and "unworthy," the delusional belief in our own moral and theological superiority as God's new chosen people has hampered if not completely distorted the church's missional engagement in the world. This is why so much of the missioinal history of the global North is sinfully fused with the interests of commerce and capitalism; fused with the interests of business and state.
So, as this chapter begins, Amos reminds Israel that though they have experienced intimacy with God, because they have fallen so far short of God's desired ethic, God promises punishment. It seems chosenness does not carry with it an automatic "get-out-of-jail-free" card.
While the historical promise of God's love for us - for ALL of us on earth - is everlasting and unyielding, it does not excuse us from God's call to love others and to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. As we see in Amos, the uniqueness of our relationship with God can be sacrificed when we dehumanize the poor and exploit the most vulnerable. Intimacy with God only covers us as we work diligently to see that it covers everyone, especially those who are oppressed or marginalized.
There is nothing wrong with saying we are chosen by God. Those who follow God, who give their lives to God and to others, are chosen. This means that grace is not something we can initiate; it is given to us. But grace does not shelter us from God's wrath when we withhold that grace from others. God has chosen me, you, and billions of others, but God has chosen us for a reason: to manifest the unconditional and everlasting love of God for the world.