Is America a Christian Nation? Or, how would it look if it was?

Passing thoughts….

Josh has pointed us to a post by Cynthia Boaz at the Huffington Post. I think anyone who has read my blog long enough knows two things about me in this regard:

  1. I do not like to confuse Church and State (see my recent posts in this category, link below)
  2. I do not believe that this country, or any geo-political unit, is a Christian nation.

First, let me restate the comment I made on Josh’s site (great site – I would recommend it.)

Josh, while I would agree with Boaz, somewhat, I find that anyone who would apply the biblical teachings of Christ and the early Christian community at world governments wholly misses the point of the Gospel. It is simply not a political system, nor meant to be one. Both sides wish to apply the NT to Government, forgetting whatever parts would disagree with them.

While the Gospel is many things, it cannot sustain a political government – unless it is the one single government.

And to be fair, my clarification:

Cynthia, allow me to correct my statements – rather clarify. I do not believe that you would easily confuse the two, Church and State, just that two often people do without acknowledging what it fully means. What I rather meant was that I agree with your statements about what a Christian government would look like, and your secular stance on Church and State.

Cynthia, quite well, explores some of the political issues which the country should tackle if it wants to be considered a Christian nation – which would have us lasting as a world superpower for all of about 5 minutes, I believe. Christianity is a good religion (yes, the only one, but not not trying to make a theological argument) but a bad political system.

One of those issues concerns what we consider socialism (the real thing is far from what was practiced in Russia, then and now, and even Europe – What did Marx say? Just don’t call him a Marxist). Josh states:

Boaz rightly points out that the earliest Christians were sharing their resources with one another (Acts 2:44-45). It’s important to note, however, that this distribution is handled by believers, not a state institution.

Josh is dead on – except I think he misses the point just a bit. If this was a Christian nation, and believers were in charge, then every state institution is suddenly handled by believers. If, as a certain political party would have us believe, that this is a Christian nation, then the same ministries which we have (or should have) in the Church should be mandated for the entire country. Should we have a benevolence committee? Should we have food banks, tithe, etc? (Granted, in many ways we actually do – commodities, taxes.) Should we provide for a form of socialized health care (I mean besides Medicare, Medicaid, ChIPS, etc…)?

If this was really a Christian nation, I would expect never to have seen slavery preserved in the founding documents, history of attempted genocide, or the exclusion of minorities from the democratic process. No lynchings, no unjust wars…

I would disagree, of course, standing on my political science studies and my theological studies, that his country is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. First, that term is a relatively new invention, and I have a difficult time believing that the Foundation Fathers would have accepted it. Second, while the majority of the country was supposed to be Christian, I find scant evidence of it in the beaten paths of history. Finally, who’s Christianity is the Christianity which founded this country? You mean the baby-baptizing Epsicopalians of the Virginia League? The Presbyterians? The Methodists? Would today’s Pentecostals or Fundamentalists willingly accept any of these as Christians? Would Trinitarians accept the Unitarians? Would Oneness people accept Trinitarians? And Trinitarians the other groups? Sure, it seems, people are Christian enough to found a Christian nation, just not Christian enough to get to heaven.

Or, should we refer to the Treaty of Tripoli?

Again, let me state that those who so easily confuse Christianity with American Patriotism miss the point of the Gospel. If this was truly a Christian nation, then yes, I believe that Ms. Boaz would indeed be correct in many of her statements, and I urge my readers to examine them, but remember, the Gospel is not Government – Do not expect the Gospel to give you the things of Government nor hold expectations that the Government will save your soul.

As a side note, I usually refer all discussion on Church and State to the early 2nd century anonymous work (which some contribute to my namesake, Polycarp) the Epistle to Diognetus. We can expect a Christian government, when Christ is our head, until then, we are citizens of every country, but home in none.

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23 Replies to “Is America a Christian Nation? Or, how would it look if it was?”

  1. I agree that the waters get murky when considering the role of a government which is led by Christians (though I doubt this will ever truly happen). In the original post, I was more interested in discussing hermeneutics and the role of context in biblical interpretation as it relates to political debates on both side of the isle. In any case, we agree on the priority of the Gospel!

  2. Amen to that, Josh.

    Just to be clear, for other readers, this is not a response to your post, Josh, just my passing thoughts on the current topic of Religion and Politics.

    The central problem of the whole thing – left and right, and I am guilt of it myself – is that some do want to see the Bible as the fix of the world’s problems. It simply is not – just an avenue for us to escape the problems of the world.

     

  3. Your favorite theologian, John Calvin, advocated separation of church and state.
     
    What’s interesting is I used to abhor the notion, having been assimilated by the Christian right, but now I’ve seen the light.
     
    I think Christian nation for most people means that the majority of people say they’re Christians and they pretty much believe the 10 Commandments, even though they can’t name more than two or three of them.
     
    Jeff

  4. I know… You’re just reading about him for “educational purposes”.
     
    I know you’ve written about it–but what book are you reading? If I remember, it’s not one of the ones I’ve read and reviewed.
     
    And the Calvinists misunderstand the Arminians.
     
    Jeff

  5. You hit brilliantly on how the Right, especially, weaves its way between saying that this is or isn’t a Christian nation.
    On the one hand, we should stick “God” in everything (on currency, national motto, Pledge, etc.) because we’re a Christian nation, but not let the governmnet distribute wealth, since the government isn’t Christian.
    I think that, to a certain extent, there is an arm of the Church and politics that thinks we should be a Christian nation in every way except those that actually matter.

  6. Joel & Jeff,

    Can I suggest a very nice book on Calvin: The Unaccommodated Calvin, Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Traditon, by Richard A. Muller (Oxford, 2000). Maybe it is out in paperback now? I have the hardback, just a great book on Calvin in his 16th century context. But it really offers more, in the close look at Calvin’s Institutes (Part II, and chap. 6 & 7)
    Fr. R.

  7. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve read some books already and need to actually get to his Institutes which I’m really looking forward to, after I read all the other books and commentaries I want to get to first. I will make a note of it though.
    Jeff

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