Our Sometimes Christian Heritage

(Note: this post has been edited a few times since it's origional posting, sorry for any confusion regular readers)

Some thoughts from my American Church/Religion History class.

Did we ever have a Christian nation?

Depends on how you define Christian. The morals people lived by, kind of Christian, (if you ignore that whole slavery thing) The theology they professed, also kind of Christian; again it depends on who you ask, the average Joe in the shop or field, or the intellectual’s at the Continental Congress. One thing is for sure, you can’t say that everyone believed one thing, or were even Christian, there were a plethora of opinions and beliefs well before 1787 when the constitution was written.

However, by and large the history of our morals are Christian-Judeo, something which didn't start to significantly change untill recently. BUT, we routinely get off track, especially in the area of social justice (which should include a pro-life stance), and particularly race relations.

Here is the ironic part.

The people that tend proclaim the fact that we were a Christian nation (mostly evangelicals), also have a pretty narrow view of what constitutes a Christian. (I’m not saying this is bad…or good, that’s another post)

Clearly, far from all of the founding fathers would fit an evangelical definition of Christian.

Now considering the fact that few evangelicals want to be known as ecumenical, it’s pretty ironic that they gravitate toward our sometimes deist founding fathers, and others who were hardly evangelical.

What ever we used to be, Christian or not, we aren't now; and were not going to be by passing laws that require people to act in a manner they do not believe.

(though we do need to pass laws that protect people that may be infringed on, or other wise harmed, which is why I support affirmative action, pro-life, and some environmental laws)


lucretius said...

This is a great post. First of all, it is only political if one sees the historical religiosity of a nation as a political issue. I for one think your post highlights the foolishness of this debate.
If you think in a narrow legal sense, no, the United States of America was founded with the separation of Church and State in mind. In fact, it is one of the first societies on earth to formally endorse such a legal arrangement.
If you think in the broader cultural sense, as your post pointed out, it is nearly impossible to come to a conclusion on this matter. It would be like asking if the world as a whole were theistic are atheistic.
As it says in Psalms, the fool says in his heart there is no God. There are plenty of fools out there who have the name of the almighty on their lips, but act like he doesn't exist in their hearts. I daresay I could count myself one of those fools in certain times of my life.
I think rather than wondering if this Nation is "Christian" in history or not, we should be asking ourselves how we can be more like Christ right now. As Lincoln once said, and was oft-quoted, "...my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

Kyle said...

"Clearly, far from all of the founding fathers would fit an evangelical definition of Christian" - Like it

"What ever we used to be, Christian or not, we don’t have it now; and were not going to get it by passing laws that require people to act in a manner they do not believe." - Love it

David, What is some of the reading you are doing for this? I would be interested to know.

David Best said...

The Religious History of America by Gaustad & Schmidt is the assigned text.

David Best said...


sorry to change the text of the post on you. I emediately found some errors right after I posted the first time. While I was fixing them I tweeked the wording a bit, including the reference to politics at the end.

Your right, that our history dosen't have to be political, that's why the refernece to politics it gone, though I do think for a lot of people it is.

David Baxley said...

Passing laws people may not believe in or not does not mean that the passing of the laws is without effect or purpose. Most people DID NOT believe in abortion as a moral right when it was first allowed by the supreme court but because of one law an entire nation 50 years later now thinks and believes differently. One law changed an entire nation. A law that brings in a stronger moral stance or conviction can lead to a complete social change over time just as the Abortion case did 50 years ago for the negative. Those who think moral legislation is a fringe on rights are ignorant of their responsibility to God first and then country. Not the other way around. The founding fathers knew that well enough even if they did not have it all together.
I do agree with one thing. Rather or not we were founded as a Christian nation does not change the fact that as Christians we should seek to influence the world around us for the Glory of God and betterment of mankind. Both of these things are found through foundational Christian beliefs in the lifestyle that God laid out for us in His word. Denying that from our politics will deny the true source the betterment of a nation and the people that live in it. Therefore if you believe in the Bible as the source to life how can you remove the teaching from the Bible from your politics and expect a good life and successful nation?

Greg said...

Hmm...I am going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you here. The bible or Christian ethics played very little role in the work of the founding fathers. I think if you read some of the enlightenment liberals such as Rousseau, Locke, Voltaire, Kant, and others you will see that while they did believe in a universal ethic (typified by the "We hold these truths to be self evident thing"), you will also see that they believed these "empirical or rational" morals had no basis in an incarnate God. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the bible which removed all miracles, divinty of Christ, and interventions of God in histroy. At the constitutional convention, when Ben Franklin (an avowed agnostic) motioned that they should start the meetings with prayer, it was flatly overruled. Not suprising seeing that diests do not believe that God actively takes part in human situations, or any other situations for that matter.
Instead of claiming that our country operated on principles derived from Christianity, it may help to see if the culture of Christianity has merely tacity accepted the morals of Western law and culture. True, somewhere way down the line this may have had its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition but it also had rejected a lot of it. Such as, the enlightenment/capitalist understanding of usury ran exactly counter to the teachings of most churches but that did not stop them.
One last point, evangelicals today tell me that I am to support the government and the soldiers because those institutions are God ordained. Yet our "Christian" founders spent a lot of their time shooting at soliders that were commissioned by their government. And the causes were hardly just either. The only oppression the colonists were under was an ideological one. They had the highest standard of living and the lowest taxation of anyone in the British Empire. John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the world, which he aquired by bootlegging rum, tabacco, guns, ships, and mary jane.

David Baxley said...

I can’t disagree with you. Our founding Fathers were not great spiritual men. There is no denying that but I honestly don’t think that looking to the beliefs of men who we would say were not strong in any faith is really a good guide to how a Christian, who does claim to follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, should live their lives in our nation today. One still can’t truly deny that any life that says they belong to Jesus must be lead by the teachings of God and His word. Although works do not save us, the book of James says that a faith without deeds is dead (James 2:20). Whether they are deeds that do or do not directly affect the political arena, our faith should affect every arena of our lives. Regardless and how one would like to believe and change things to fit a modern approach, the Word of God must be the trendsetters for a Christian life. If that becomes true in our lives then we must allow the Truth from God’s word affect our voting, our policies, and stances in the political arena as well every other area in our lives.
My point from my last post had nothing to do with our founding Fathers but everything to do with our faith actually playing a role in every area of our lives, unless of course our faith is dead, as James warns about.

Tyler Watson said...

"The people that tend proclaim the fact that we were a Christian nation (mostly evangelicals), also have a pretty narrow view of what constitutes a Christian."

Nicely said. I would love to see you fill this statement out more and apply it to this topic.

I agree with the main thrust of your argument. When we say "Christian nation" so many people mean such different things. In one way we can say the US is a Christian nation in that most people when polled say they are Christians -- and granted it's one thing to adhere to a religion on a poll, it's another thing to be a practitioner. In another sense, we are a decidedly non-Christian nation in that we are a specifically pluralistic nation, i.e., no state religion. I think that those of us within the evangelical world who use the term "Christian nation" mean something else than these two options as it relates more to a moral code.