It was scheduled to rain on a big day for my alma mater, and a university big wig told a reverend to pray for God to hold the rain.
The reverend chided, "God might have bigger things to worry about. Maybe he even wants it to rain."
His retort is advice oft ignored in American politics.
After the Supreme Court's landmark decision on same sex marriage, both sides of the aisle were in a state of frenzy over what God would say or do.
In the United States, the question often takes the following form: "What would Jesus say about same sex marriage?"
Republican Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, sounded off on Twitter, "Marriage was defined by God. No man can redefine it."
Left leaning The Very Reverend Gary Hall, dean of the Washington Cathedral, said, "Those who claim that same-sex marriage threatens the sanctity of heterosexual marriage neglect the history of the institution's evolution both within the scriptures and over time."
A large swath of the American civic and political spectrum seems to have a position on how God would rule on the issue of marriage equality.
Perhaps this is because we are still a relatively religious country--7 in 10 Americans identify with a branch of the Christian faith and the number of non-Christians, particularly Hindus and Muslims, is growing. And, in an ever evolving world--where ancient context cannot directly speak to technology or globalization or secularism--we seek deeper meaning.
Invoking God's name inherently involves claims to Truth (with a capital T).
For a particular congregation, denomination, or institution--a body that can regulate doctrine and membership--such claims to Truth are often critical to longevity and sustained ideology. But when particular groups take their private claims to Truth and introduce those claims, often behind powerful pulpits and heavy purses, into the public sphere, their beliefs are no longer benign.
The problems with theocracy--and more along the American context, the interplay between church and state--are well documented: Exclusion, not inclusion, becomes implicit practice; religious bodies help determine secular rights.
There are many political, social, and cultural arguments that can be made against the rising tide of groups that co-opt God and then push "His" perspective in a secular arena.
But there is also a religious argument to be made.
God's grace and message must go beyond politics and demography. How else is it that different societies--superficially and materially distant--are able to call and worship the same divinity?
God's grace, for the practitioner, is wrapped up in a powerful and controversial idea: We are small, and He is Big. We doubt, and we are uncertain. We are often wrong, and we are fallible.
Many, particularly those who ascribe to variants of the Abrahamic faiths, claim that ego--or as Muslims call it, nafs--must be checked in order for a believer's faith to blossom. Such a tenet is why many practitioners leave the judging to God, who best understands the deeper nuances and circumstances of our lives.
How is it, then, that we are bold enough to declare what God would do with utmost confidence? How can it be that a community of God could so firmly advocate for public policy in His name in a multicultural and pluralistic society?
For practitioners, there is another route when it comes to policy: prayer, dialogue, community, and empathy. God's message speaks to people of different economic, historical, and cultural backgrounds and experiences. In the same vein, we too, can rise above our perpetually flawed--and sometimes damaging--claims to public Truth.