The Myth of a Christian Nation
A Bold Claim
America is a Christian nation.
That’s a bold claim, isn’t it? And yet, it’s not unusual to hear somebody talk about how America was founded on Christian principles, and is at its best when living out these principles.
It’s like there is an undercurrent that the founding fathers were all righteous and holy people who did nothing out of self-interest, and lived lives that are to be lifted up as an example for us all.
Is this even true? I feel pretty confident in saying that it is not.
What does it mean for America to be a “Christian nation”? How is it possible for an entire nation to be “Christian”? Does the nation as a whole repent of it’s sins and put it’s faith in Jesus? Surely all the individuals in a particular nation can, but does that make it a Christian nation?
The Great Myth
Christianity is the majority religion in the United States, that is for sure. However, I’m not so sure it qualifies as a Christian nation. The statistics show that only about 20% of the population attend worship on a given Sunday morning. Given that over 75% proclaim to be Christian, that’s not a good number. What’s 20% of 75%? 15% or something along those lines — I studied theology, not math.
Do these people claim to be Christian because they live in America and America is a “Christian” nation? There seems to be some significant faulty logic going on if this is the case.
In my experience as a pastor, I feel pretty confident in saying that the idea of America being a Christian nation is a myth. The nation is not an entity that can claim such allegiances. Were the founding fathers people of faith? Yes, many of them were, but that doesn’t make the entire country Christian.
John the Baptist and Ancestral Arrogance
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance and do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:7–8, ESV).
The people of Israel thought that they were doing all right simple because they were the people of Israel. We know that wasn’t the case, though, don’t we?
Sometimes, ancestral arrogance can get in the way of truly dedicating ourselves to our faith. We think that we’re all right because our parents and grandparents led the way before us. In reality, while we don’t walk it alone, we all walk our own path on this journey of faith. The community of faith is important, and we need to be part of a community of faith, but we can’t rely on that community’s faith as our own.
I’ve heard people say, “Well, I’m a Christian. I go to church every Sunday.” Sitting in a pew every Sunday doesn’t make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage would make one a car. It doesn’t work like that.
What does John say? “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Does our nation look like a nation that is bearing “fruits in keeping with repentance”? I have a hard time believing that. Watch the news: racism, homicide, hate crimes, generally… unpleasant… political rhetoric, systemic and economic oppression — these are a regular part of our lives. So much so that we don’t even recognize it at times.
The truth of the matter is that there is no reasonable assessment by which we can say that America is a Christian nation. And, frankly, I don’t think it should be. The current marriage between politics and religion has caused a lot of damage to both. People are walking away from the church because of what we are seeing on a national stage. People are being harmed because one particular brand of Christianity has garnered more headlines than necessary.
It’s about time we put to bed the myth that America is a Christian nation. It’s not. It never has been. We shouldn’t be worried about what our country represents when it comes to faith. We should be paying more attention to how we represent our life of faith.
How does your life look? Does it reflect the life of one who has repented and put his/her faith in Jesus? How we live matters.
So, what does your life look like? Does it look like a life that is directed by and given over to God? Don’t rely on your location or your heritage for your faith. Be informed from them, celebrate them, allow them to shape you, but don’t assume that they are a substitute for your own faith.