Is the US a ‘Christian nation’? Should we want to be?


Let’s set aside for the moment the disputes over whether this country was founded as a Christian nation, or whether it was even a Christian nation when your mother was in elementary school.  The more interesting questions to me today are: Is there a difference between …

  1. a “Christian nation”
  2. a “nation where Christians are free to practice our faith” and
  3. a “nation where Christians lead the political agenda”?

I’m confident we’ve been trying to be Number 3 for several decades. And we lost to the Republican party. Unfortunate choice of allies, that.

Regarding Number 2, I have yet to meet an American Christian who’s been thrown in jail, removed from their family, herded into camps, enslaved, or otherwise experienced what people in most of the world would describe as “religious persecution.” (We do end up in jail when we do illegal things for which we give God credit, but that’s a somewhat different matter.) And happily, I haven’t met many American Hindus or Buddhists who’ve had those kinds of experiences either. A few too many Muslims, but that’s related to a different kind of persecution.

Number 1: a “Christian nation.” I’ve got one big question. If we’re a “Christian nation”, why are so many missionaries from Africa and Asia coming here? Why has the persecuted church around the world been praying for us? Could it be that they understand something about how hard it is to be both Christian and nation — the church and the empire — that we don’t?

Is the United States as a “Christian nation”? Why or why not?

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About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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10 Responses to Is the US a ‘Christian nation’? Should we want to be?

  1. mowthpeece says:

    Funny but I just addressed this in my own post ‘Secular Christianity.’ This country is Christian in name only, or superstition…or maybe culture. Just like half of all Jews are not religious but still live as Jews by recognizing their Holy days and traditions, Christians seemed to have slipped into the same behavior(s).

    But really, what would it mean to be a Christian? What kind of Christian? An original Christian was Jewish, for three hundred years, in fact. Then there’s the Roman Christians, i.e. Catholics, which claim to be the only real Christians, but let’s not forget the Greek Orthodox, who claim to be the only original Christians, too. Throw in some Gnostics from the start (but deeply underground), and later an angry German monk, and now you have Protestant Christianity…which one is the real one?

    I don’t think any faith with tens of thousands of denominations has any room to complain when the faith is diluted beyond recognition…I’m sorry…it’s just a truthful observation.

    • I hope that you can find, as you read posts on this blog, pictures of Christians who are living the faith, no matter their denomination. And please know that many of us are quite concerned that, despite our putative numbers, there’s not a lot of evidence we live here. The Roman emperors and governors were anxious about these people who were “turning the world upside down” — though they had no political power at all. Something is wrong if God cannot accomplish the same through us.

  2. Franklin Evans says:

    I’m here to comment via a ping you sent to a posting at Alexandria, where I am one of many authors. I’m grateful, because as one of the few non-Christians in the US I’m always happy to find someone who understands what “freedom of” means, be it religion or speech or other.

    I recently posted the following on another Alexandria thread, and I thought posting it here might support your efforts to promote what freedom of religion really means. I’ve modified it slightly from the original because of context.

    My mother and her family were hidden, fed and housed, and generally protected by northern Italian peasants — at considerable risk of their own lives — during the early 1940′s. These rustic and small town people were Roman Catholic to the core, but serenely ignored (along with the local priests) the Vatican’s policy of turning away from the insanity of Nazi and fascist war on the Jews. Were they just damn good people through and through? I think that part is true except for the “just” qualifier. Was there something about their deeply felt religious beliefs that at least informed their heroism? My mother believed that the answer to that was an emphatic “yes”.

    Anyway, the punchline here may still be obscure, but this is it: There’s something strong and pure at the heart of many Catholics, despite the very human faults and frailties of the Catholic Church hierarchy and leadership. Those who claim “persecution” in the US, not meaning to put words in their mouths or thoughts in their heads, are bemoaning that leadership’s declining effectiveness, from its own failure to adapt as much as from “hostile” changes in the socio-legal framework of the country. As individuals, my experience of Catholics (starting with my mother’s) is of a ready ability to adapt even while preserving that heart.

    • My own family’s experience in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was, that when their spirits were renewed in a Methodist revival in 1810, they and others were accused of simply seeking to avoid the tax that paid the Congregational minister. (This is recorded in a local history written in the 1890s.) And there’s no way of knowing what exactly did happen, 200 years later. But the very fact of the dispute (and the grudge still recalled some 80 years later) suggests that something other than God and God’s glory was at stake for that colony’s leadership.

      It does seem that Christ is often found in humble and hidden places. It is too easy for leadership (of every kind) to believe that gaining power or preserving position through accommodation is the best choice. And then, almost without thought, a series of small moves can remove them entirely from the rullings of their first allegiance. Whereas those who live in hardship and expect difficulty are often unafraid to risk experiencing more of the same in the name of their Lord.

      Thank you for joining the conversation.

  3. Cecy says:

    Awesome blog. The level-headed language really helps me understand the issues.

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  7. Ben Knotts says:

    I think the answer would easier to grasp if the question was posed in a way that actual evidence could be submitted, such as the following: Are the governing principles of the United States founding documents (Constitution and Declaration of Independence) the result of Christian beliefs?

  8. I like the question. I think it is also difficult to answer. A friend, Dr. John Rankin, tries to demonstrate that the checks and balances in our tripartite and federal structures are first modeled in the relations among the tribes of Israel. I think to take our nation-state as modeled on the unbreakable commitment among related clans under their divine and infallible Lord is a gigantic stretch … proven by secession (and the continuing annual celebration thereof in South Carolina), if nothing else … and further demonstrated by the current game of Survivor being played in DC.

    Are a particular set of documents the result of Christian beliefs? Then we have to ask: were the authors Christian? And if not (since many key authors were only deists), does that matter? Do the documents reflect Christian beliefs? Were they written to the prevailing belief system of their day, even though the authors didn’t share it, just as politicians today are likely to quote Scripture whether or not it is important to them? Are non-Christians able to “get it” or does it take a Kuypers or a Wilberforce to express Christianity in the political arena?

    Back in your court, Ben!

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