Don’t thank God that Nebraska just voted to end the death penalty.
Considering he’s served as a senator for 38 years, that means each year Chambers introduced a bill to repeal state executions. And each year he ultimately failed.
But he never quit, and this year, he succeeded.
In a politically conservative state no less.
In a vote that didn’t fall along party lines.
That is veto-proof.
It’s stunning, hopeful, and poetic.
I’ll be honest. My first inclination, as a liturgical Christian was to offer a hearty, “Thanks be to God!” in celebration. I was tempted to see God at work in this. I was tempted to ponder the beautiful irony that an atheist has done more to build the reign of God on earth than most Christians have. I was even tempted to make a hyperbolic biblical comparison of Chambers to Cyrus of Persia, the Gentile that the Jewish scriptures anoints as the Messiah.
And it’s understandable. With good news like this, many Christians might be tempted to claim this for God or even to call such good news a revelation of the gospel. We are so desperate for good news at times, we’ll colonize just about anything to renew our faith.
But remember Chambers submitted that bill nearly 40 times, not because he was a man of faith but because he wasn’t. Remember that it was Christians who stood in the way and shot it down for almost four decades as well. Remember, too, that the dominant portrait of atheism for many Christians isn’t someone like Chambers but crude and disparaging stereotypes found in films like God’s Not Dead.
So don’t thank God for what happened in Nebraska. Instead, give credit where credit is truly due.
Thank an atheist.
Honor Chambers, not the God he doesn’t believe in.
If people of faith must include a deity in our gratitude, then perhaps we should simply thank God for an atheist named Ernie Chambers who, against all odds, just made the world a better place for everyone. Maybe even ask God to grant us the humility learn from atheists like Chambers and partner with them respectfully.
So let’s not use Chambers’ singular victory to restore our faith in God.
Let it restore our faith in humanity, instead.