My Musings

A Christian Nation?

A Christian Nation?

President Obama may not consider the United States a “Christian nation” (as he denied in Turkey on April 6, 2009), but our Founders certainly did.

But wait! Didn’t President John Adams write: “As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” (May 26, 1797, submitted to Congress; The Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11)?

Yes, it’s true. If by “nation,” Obama only meant our government, then he was right. However, there is much more to America than politicians and government (thank God). Our people, culture, language and faith also define us. Clearly stated, America was founded as a Christian nation with a secular government.

Too many of us presume that America was founded when politicians said so. Wrong. The experiment we call America began as Pilgrims, Puritans and others began arriving on these shores to live free of continental monarchies and according to the precepts of God’s word as they understood them. A huge step forward was taken when politicians signed The Declaration of Independence in 1776 and adopted the U.S. Constitution in 1787, but those steps were part of a much larger journey. Americans must learn to look beyond politicians (past, present and future) for our definition and purpose as a nation.

President Calvin Coolidge

President Calvin Coolidge understood the spiritual roots behind our Declaration of Independence. He was aware of the influence of the classics of ancient Rome (which he read in the original Latin) and some Enlightenment philosophers on our Founders, but he was well read enough to also honor the richer home-grown influences, including that of several generations of colonial preachers. In his speech celebrating the 150th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence in 1926, Coolidge said,

    “[The Founders] preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.”

Coolidge continued:

    “[The] Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event.”

Our Founders made it clear that American values emanated not from political documents but from Judeo-Christian convictions. Images of America as the “new Israel” abound in their speeches and writings. The Declaration of Independence itself contains four references to God (“Creator”, “Lawmaker”, “Supreme Judge,” and “Protector”). John Dickinson, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention, wrote:

    “Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declarations of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchment or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth.”

On October 11, 1798, President John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Many similar statements can be cited. Our Constitution did not establish America as a Christian nation. It provided laws and governing terms for us as a Christian nation.

In his book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, Michael Novak outlined the rich roles played by both faith and reason in our founding. In my lifetime, however, the radically secular American education establishment (from K to Ph.D.) has increasingly disregarded most anything related to America’s Christian heritage. This is poor scholarship and it cuts off one of the two wings that once enabled us to soar. Anyone who sees our nation, from its beginning, as more than our politics understands that our Christian heritage is an essential element of our original and ongoing definition as a nation. This priceless heritage may be largely gone in the hearts and minds of many educated but under-learned Americans today, but that’s because intellectual honesty is all too absent as well.

 

Photo Credits:

Declaration of Independence
President Calvin Coolidge
Christian Heritage

 

The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

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About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.
  • Claire

    This is a compelling sampling of the Christian perspectives of some of our American forebears. Understanding those perspectives might help American Christians to appreciate the cultural accomplishments and potential of their faith. Even in a completely public context, It ought to be possible to understand our Christian heritage without trying to foist Christianity on all citizens of an increasingly diverse nation. It ought to be no more remarkable to study the Bible in school than to study the plays of Sophocles. That said, the more diverse the nation becomes, the less remarkable it should be to study the beliefs of other cultures that have fostered the continually developing American spirit.

    • Joel Solliday

      Thanks Claire. Maybe I should have emphasized how glad I am for the wisdom of the founders who did not want government to be used to push or foist any religion on anyone. I just want our Christian heritage to be more understood and respected (though I know it came with flaws just like any other heritage that humans claim and apply). Blessings.