Sunday, October 05, 2014

Myth #3: America is a Christian Nation

A popular view among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians is that we have lost our originally founded Christian nation to liberal and secular influences. We need to return to our Christian moorings as a country or face God's judgment, which has already started in the form of economic recession and possibly through attacks by Al Qada and now ISIS. There is some lost "golden age" to which American Christians need to return, the belief goes, or else.

Last night, at our discussion group, we watched a DVD on nonviolent movements that included the story of the lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement headed by Freedom Rider James Lawson. It reminded us about this myth of an American Christian nation. This is where we need historical honesty. Anyone who looks objectively at the history of America concludes that there really is no "lost golden Christian age" on which we were founded. Every generation of Americans has had societal blemishes that could only be characterized as unchristian (or, more accurately, unlike a nation following Christ), from the founders perpetuating slavery, to our treatment of native Americans, to the stain of child labor practices during the industrial revolution, to suppression of women's rights, to segregation and oppression of African Americans, etc.

Intellectually honest evangelicals like Mark Noll (In Search for Christian America) and Greg Boyd (The Myth of a Christian Nation) have exposed this myth through careful examination of the intentions and actions of our founding fathers. The American idea, of course, was based in some ways on the principles of a loving God found in the Bible, e.g. "All men are created equal" and "endowed by rights by their Creator," but this is a far cry from America being a unique "Christian nation." Enlightenment ideas also heavily fed into American democracy. Only a few of the founding fathers were conservative Christians. Many of them--Franklin, Jefferson, John Adams, Washington, et al--were Deists and Universalists, and would be considered liberal heretics by conservatives today. Although many believed in "Divine Providence," this did not mean they believed in all of the Christian "orthodox" biblical teachings.

Jesus was not a Christian, nor did he found Christianity or an institutional "Church," and America is not a distinctly Christian nation. Yet, I and millions of people, seek to follow Jesus' teachings in order to make the world a better place. As I hope to demonstrate in my next book, sound study of history reveals this paradox and opens the door for a new spirituality our society desperately needs. If these things are myths, what is a more historically-grounded faith in Jesus?