Christianity does not need America to thrive, but I think America definitely needs Christianity to survive and thrive.
Our culture has forgotten what our Founders knew. The American experiment is a spiritual, moral and cultural exercise, not just a political one. Private virtue, rooted in biblical faith, is essential for the American experiment to work as the Founders intended.
Our Founders saw America as a passionate and principled people, not just a secular political system. They defined this nation by the values and ideals that animated the hearts and lives of the people. President John Adams wrote:
One great advantage of the Christian Religion is that it brings the great Principle of the Law of Nature andNations, Love your Neighbor as yourself and do to others as you would that others should do to you,–to the Knowledge, Belief and Veneration of the whole people. (From the diary of John Adams on August 14, 1796 (Quoted from Sydney Ahlstrum’s book, ‘A Religious History of the American People’).
In other words, Adams saw the “Christian religion” as the source that brings those great principles of law and love to the “whole people.”
Read the acts of congress that decreed days of “Fasting and Repentance” for early Americans. Consider the declarations of Thanksgiving issued by such leaders as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and others. They shatter all doubt that we were a Christian nation from the beginning.
The phrase “Christian nation” should not be understood here in a personal sense but as a descriptive adjective (like calling Harding University a “Christian college”). Does America get to go to heaven? No. I use this phrase not to make a theological claim but to strengthen our grateful grip on the priceless Christian heritage with which we were blessed as a people.
The French Revolution in the late 18th century shared many political ideals with the American Revolution that preceded it. However, it ended up as a human disaster, inciting a violent “Reign of Terror,” all in the name of high ideals like “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Ours was more successful in the long run, in my view, because we had a strong colonial Christian base upon which to build our democratic ideals and forms of governing. Questions regarding the biblical justification for our War of Independence are a debatable among reasonable believers but that question lies beyond my point here. I am positing that the deep-seated Christian character of our colonial community and the friendly posture our Founders took with regard to Christian faith were powerful factors that made a significant difference in the ultimate results of these revolutions.
French revolutionaries fancied themselves as “worshippers” of reason and their fierce “enlightened” anti-Christian arrogance fostered a vicious thirst for innocent blood. By stark contrast, our Founders bore an abounding respect for Christianity. That some were not orthodox does not diminish my point.
Later, the Russian Revolution (early in the 20th century) yielded even worse results. Its idealistic Marxist legacy became a longstanding blight on that country and the world. Marxist revolutionaries were atheist to the core. Their 20th century “experiments” led to more human slaughter (under Lenin and Stalin in the USSR and Mao in China) than any other ideology in history.
I believe our Christian heritage and our Founder’s respect for it made the difference for the good in the results of the revolutionary movements compared above. In America, the Enlightenment ideals of the 18th century had the opportunity to take root in a colonial culture wherein Christian values provided a strong moral foundation. Both sets of ideals were flawed when put into practice but they complimented each other generally for the good on our side of the Atlantic.
As early as 1776, John Adams wrote in a letter:
Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue. (June 21, 1776).
I believe the best politics on earth are worthless without foundations set in faith.
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.