Is America a Christian Nation?
Is our country a Christian nation?
The first thing we need to explore is what it means to be Christian. If you were looking at the true definition of Christian you would find that it can only apply to a human being. Christians are followers of Jesus Christ who accept his identity as God, savior, and master of their lives. Jesus told his followers, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”(John 14:15) Christians love Jesus and live a life that expresses love toward him. They still sin and fail regularly at imitating him, but at their core they are devoted to the struggle of seeking God in a fallen world. True Christians are living and active, so this means that CDs and books and movies cannot truly be Christian. They don’t have the life of God in them. In the same way a country cannot be truly Christian. Even if 100% of the citizenry were Christians, and all of the government’s policies were informed by Christian principles, what we would have is a very large Christian community composed of individual believers. The United States would not be Christian; its people would be Christian.
Now, all of that being said I know that when people call an object “Christian” they don’t believe that it is saved by Jesus. They likely mean that it has a message which somehow ties into God. Switchfoot is a Christian band. Their music is shaped by their beliefs and many call it Christian. In its own way it points to Christ, so I will say that when anything outside of a human being is labeled “Christian” it must in some way point to Jesus Christ.
The two working definitions of Christian that I will use for the rest of this post are:
- A human being who accepts Jesus Christ as their personal savior, which results in an inner transformation turning the individual, over a lifetime, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This means their thoughts and actions will be increasingly like those of Jesus as they seek to know him. More than a title or affiliation or even religion, Christianity is giving all of yourself with the belief that God will give you his own life in return.
- Anything that is not a human that points to Jesus Christ as he is portrayed in the gospels. Examples are music, paintings, movies, books, culture, etc.
Is our country a Christian nation?
I have heard arguments from both sides regarding the Christian foundations of America. One side claims that the founding members of this country were largely Christian, or at least heavily informed by Christian principles. As a result they drafted our core documents with divine assistance from God and turned to Him in prayer before taking critical first steps as a nation. The other side points out that many of them were Deists (namely Thomas Jefferson who made his own Bible by taking out all that mystical stuff about miracles and resurrections) or simply non-religious like the Enlightenment hero, Benjamin Franklin. This side also is keen on emphasizing the separation of church and state, which they say is the intention of our founders. Taken even further, this separation is used as proof that the founders wanted religion far removed from the governing bodies of this land. So what’s the deal?
Based on what I’ve gathered, and trying really hard not to let my own bias taint my senses, I believe that Christianity did play a critical role in the formation of this country. But at the same time ideas shaped by the Enlightenment were used to craft our government structures. The Bible was not the central document through which the Constitution was formed. That being said, many of the men who had a hand in the beginning were devout Christians, so it is not correct to assume that they wanted Christians to be separated from government entirely. Their ideal government wouldn’t be one in which men didn’t allow their faith to play a role in their decisions. Religion would never be forced on anyone, but America would also not force the religious to deny their convictions once in public office. If you need some proof of someone in high office exercising their faith, just look to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. American citizens elect these people to reflect their own values.
More important than where we were yesterday as a nation is where we are today. Does our culture look Christian? Do our policies look Christian? Are our people even Christian?
Certainly, the dominant culture in this country is far from reflecting Christian values. The American Dream at its core is about amassing worldly wealth and happiness so that you can have a comfortable life. Is this anything like what Christ meant when he said to his followers, ” If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”? (Matthew 16:24) The values that we see on television are shallow and ungodly. Physical beauty and the vitality of youth is idolized and sex is used as a tool for profit. How many advertisers and television shows whore themselves in our living rooms? The internet spills over with porn with millions of men and women captivated by the dull lustful glow of their computer screens. This isn’t about gay marriage and abortion, though legalized abortion is perhaps the greatest noose around the neck of America’s spirit. This is about a culture of death. We live in a culture of death. In one moment we are thrilled by distant or digital violence and in the next promised that eternal beauty and health is attainable. Just buy this or watch this or read this. So much of our culture is based on avoiding the reality of our inevitable deaths. This is the opposite of the Christian life. Clearly we cannot call our culture “Christian” since it does little to point anyone to Jesus Christ.
But what about our people?
How many people who say they are Christians are truly followers of Christ? Say 70% of the country identified themselves as Christian. Of those, how many go to church maybe once or twice a year and live their lives as if they didn’t love Jesus? A conservative guess would be half. Just consider all of the people you know who call themselves Christian or Catholic. Of those, how many would you actually label as a legitimate follower of Jesus Christ? How many actually live as if God was the love of their life? I even recognize that I am in danger of falling into this category when I consider how little I resemble Jesus and how much I embody the culture in which I live.
The point I’m trying to make is that Christians, true believers who live for God, are not the majority in this country. Christians are in the minority. Many conservatives hold tightly to their traditional “Christian” values but their lives are far from the heart of God.
Most Americans are not Christian.
Is America a Christian nation? No. We were once much more united by Christian values, but we are currently far removed from that past. Our culture is not Christian. Our people are not Christian. And increasingly less so.
God moves in the hearts of people. What will become of ours?