A nation full of Christians, but a Christian nation?

Does a nation full of Christians make for a Christian nation? Newsweek editor Jon Mecheam writes an op-ed in today's New York Times reminds us that while America may be full of Christians, that does not make America a Christian nation.

He shows us that Thomas Jefferson, an Anglican, said that his bill for religious liberty in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.”

Mecham also relates how fellow Anglican George Washington wrote to a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island said, “happily the government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. ... Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

But when Episcopally- (and Virginia-) -raised Baptist John McCain said to beliefnet.com that “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation” it was enough to make the former scourge of the religious right earn an 8 out of 10 on beliefnet's God-o-meter.

Mecheam writes in rebuttal to what he calls an article of faith among many evangelical Christians:

According to Scripture, however, believers are to be wary of all mortal powers. Their home is the kingdom of God, which transcends all earthly things, not any particular nation-state. The Psalmist advises believers to “put not your trust in princes.” The author of Job says that the Lord “shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.” Before Pilate, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And if, as Paul writes in Galatians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then it is difficult to see how there could be a distinction in God’s eyes between, say, an American and an Australian. In fact, there is no distinction if you believe Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles: “I most certainly believe now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him.”

The kingdom Jesus preached was radical. Not only are nations irrelevant, but families are, too: he instructs those who would be his disciples to give up all they have and all those they know to follow him.

He goes on:

The founders were not anti-religion. Many of them were faithful in their personal lives, and in their public language they evoked God. They grounded the founding principle of the nation — that all men are created equal — in the divine. But they wanted faith to be one thread in the country’s tapestry, not the whole tapestry.

Read:A Nation of Christians Is Not a Christian Nation

For more on how candidates make use of religious language to appeal to religious voters (and to get an idea of what politicians think religious people want to hear) see the God-o-meter on www.beliefnet.com, which is done in partnership with TIME.

Comments (3)

And if the religious right thinks the founding fathers were Christian in the way they are Christian they need to study American history more closely.

(The reasserters in the Episcopal church probably don't make that mistake. If they're honest they would say George and Thomas would need to repent of some of their beliefs.)

Just about everyone who was anyone in Virginia at the time was nominally an Anglican. But George and Thomas were both deists. George went to church but skipped out at communion leaving Marth. And then there is the Jefferson Bible.

Some years ago, when July 4 fell on a Sunday, I preached that I would consider this a Christian nation when we had a social policy based on Matthew 25 and an economic policy based on Acts. Half the congregation was thrilled and half appalled; but in any case it was several years before they invited me to supply again.

Once again, mscottsail is Marshall Scott.

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space