The International Herald-Tribune posted an interesting article on their website yesterday:
The U.S. is not a “Christian nation”
This is no anti-religious article. The writer—Newsweek editor Jon Meacham—doesn’t make the founding fathers out to be irreligious. In fact, he readily acknowledges that many of this country’s architects were deeply committed to their faith.
Meacham does, however, cite some interesting historical facts to support his argument that we are not a Christian nation. For example, when Connecticut ratified the Constitution, some felt there wasn’t enough religious language in it and campaigned to revise this country’s foundational document. Their efforts, however, failed. Meacham also quotes some who opposed the Constitution’s ratification because, in the words of one such critic, “No deity comes down to dictate it.”
Of course, our national liturgy is filled with religious language, and Meacham is not blind to this fact. His argument is not that Christianity has no place in our national story—just that it does not occupy the only place.
But what fascinates me more than Meacham’s historical observations are the theological questions he raises. He reminds us of the profoundly spiritual and political statement Jesus made to Pilate, governor of Judea, shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Meacham also cites Peter’s speech at Cornelius’ house, given on the occasion the apostle first realized that God does not prefer Jew over non-Jew (or vice versa):
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
— Acts 10:34 (TNIV)
For me, all of this raises the question: What would Jesus do with a “Christian nation” anyway? Is it something he even wants?
It seems to me that Jesus did not put his faith in nations to advance the kingdom of God. The notion of spreading the gospel by the sword (which, in the scriptures, is a metaphor for governments) originated with Constantine, not Jesus.
Jesus, it seems, had a better plan.
It hinged upon a group of followers who were not of this world, advancing a kingdom that was not of this world—that is, a kingdom that does not depend on the power of nations or governments or militaries or anything else that denotes power in the minds of most.
Apparently, Jesus was under the impression that small groups of people from every background imaginable could accomplish more simply by loving each other (and their neighbors) than any “Christian nation” ever could.
When we aspire to make this country a “Christian nation,” maybe we’re settling for less than what God wants to offer us.
4 thoughts on “does Jesus want a “Christian nation”?”
This post is super interesting to me. The older I get, the more disillusioned I am with the US government. Yet I know we must have an earthly government to run this country because not everyone is going to follow Jesus. (Geez, can you imagine what would happen if an entire country followed the example Jesus set forth? Mindblowing.)
I think you really hit on something that would solve a lot of our problems. So many people in power don’t act in love; they act for power or prestige or whatever. But this world that we’re living in is so much more complicated than I can deal with. I can act in love in one way to my brother and yet hurt my friend. Or I can act in love toward my friend and hurt my brother. Simple solutions. Difficult times.
P.S. What did you think about McCain and the flak he took for saying he would want a Christian President?
The notion of spreading the gospel by the sword (which, in the scriptures, is a metaphor for governments) […]
Huh? I’ve always been taught that the sword is a metaphor for the word of God, not human government… can you point me to verses or other references for this angle?
Hey Sarah… I didn’t hear McCain’s comment, so I’m not sure what the context was. But all other things being equal, if I had to choose between a competent non-Christian and an incompetent Christian for president, I would choose the competent non-Christian. I don’t think politicians should be subjected to religious litmus tests… that sort of thing can work against us just as easily as it can work to our advantage. Somebody might rule out a candidate because they’re agnostic or Muslim or whatever… but how would we feel if people immediately ruled out a candidate because of their Christian faith? It runs both ways…
ElShaddai Edwards… Good point. The sword is sometimes a metaphor for God’s word (Hebrews 4:12 comes to mind). On the other hand, that’s just one of the ways it’s used in the Bible. In the Old Testament, for example, the sword is sometimes a reference to warfare between rival nations (e.g. Micah 4:3). It can also refer to God’s use of one nation to bring judgment against another (e.g. Nahum 2:13). In Romans 13:4 (and possibly 8:35), the sword is a metaphor for government power. Paul commands us to respect this power, but we’re never encouraged to aspire to such power ourselves—much less use it to advance God’s kingdom. That’s the main thing I was after. The passage in Romans is the one I had in mind, but I should have been clearer by saying that the sword is “sometimes a metaphor for governments…” Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clarify. Hope this is helpful.
Great post. I will follow the link to Jon Meacham’s article.
I recently read an article from Patheos and another from Christian Post. Both writers imagined what America would look like if it was a Christian nation. It is interesting to note they came up with a totally different country.
At Patheos, the author emphasized how the works of mercy and love would be at the center. This meant repealing the cherished second Amendment, pledge of allegiance, department of defense, among other things.
At Christian Post, the author imagined a nation were people are free to worship publicly, no derogatory music, no pornography and no crime. Also, in this imaginary country homosexuality will be illegal, and so will be abortion, except in special circumstances.
But, which of these two views might be correct representation of a Christian nation? I have written two articles on the issue. I will be honored if you could take a look at them and leave your wise comments on either of the posts. Thank you.