Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is America a Christian Nation? (1)

Yesterday, addressing students in Istanbul, President Obama declared that "America is not a Christian nation."

That is a pretty bold statement especially considering it was made in a predominantly Muslim nation.

Without any ad hominem attacks on President Obama or each other I would like to know your thoughts. Specifically I would like you to deal with the question, "Is America a Christian nation?"

If your answer is "no" then what is America? If your answer is "yes" then explain. To what extent is America "Christian"?


rmc said...

No. America is not a Christian nation. I wouldn't want to witness to a Muslim or anyone else that so much of what goes on in our country today is Christian. We don't know what we are. We are drifting. There was enough Christian influence in the past so that we could be called a Christian nation. I would say the 1963 Supreme Court decision to kick God out of the public schools was the end of America as a Christian nation. Perhaps we lost something of God's protection then as our president was assassinated that year. Up until then I remember starting each day in public school with Bible reading and reciting the Lord's prayer. Imagine doing that today. Our greatest need today is for revival. That should consume us as God's people. Without revival, we don't even want to think about where America might be headed.

Mike said...

Some thoughts here...

It has been my experience that some Christians seem to use the moniker of "christian nation" to describe the U.S. when it is convenient...and yet in another context are willing to call it godless...not sure how to put those together unless you consider that nations can be like people...redeemed and yet sinful at the same time.

If, by christian nation, we are referring to the beliefs of the founding fathers (which is usually the context I hear it) I think they were at least as influenced by the enlightenment as much as the christian faith of their time.

melledge said...

There is a case to say America was "founded" as a Christian nation. Fast-forward to today, and much has changed. Fewer people claim to be Christian, and even many that claim to be Christian don't even know/care what that means. Bottom line, I would not want to identify my beliefs and values based on the majority of America's citizens or especially its leaders.

To summarize, I'd have to say I agree with Obama in this case.

To answer your question, "what is America?" America is just another lost nation embracing moral relativism and "tolerance." I see very little now that distinguishes America from many of the European countries where the idea of an Absolute Right and Wrong is completely offensive.

(Hope that didn't sound too pessimistic. I just wanted to get right to the point.)

Harley A. said...

I agree with Mike. I was brought up with the understanding that the founding fathers were a cadre of highly devout Christians whose sole purpose was to set up a Christian nation. The more I study the reality of the history, though, the more I come to the conclusion that they were much more influenced by philosophers of the Enlightenment - of Descartes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Hobbes, et.al. They were libertines first and foremost, and, I believe they were seeking to set up a nation free from politicized religion – the kind that had caused so much discord and suffering in Europe. I think some of them were believers, but I think that was more in the background. In fact, the argument could be made that men coming from a truly Christian perspective would not have been so quick to revolt against their king.

I think we confuse the blessedness of being free to practice Christianity openly with it being the foundation of our nation. A lot of trouble comes with being a “Christian nation” – look at 17th and 18th century Europe. A lot depends on what those in power think it means to be Christian.

Obama’s statement, though, brings in a whole other discussion. He did not make that a statement as an interesting historical fact. His intent was to embrace Islam.

toothdoc said...

No. America is not a Christian nation and I would go so far as to say by definition there never has been, nor will there ever be, a Christian nation. Christ came to redeem individual sinners and unite them together in a church - not in a national political governance. Being founded by christians does not make my nation Christian any more than the Ford Automotive Company being Facist because it was founded by a fan of Hitler. Nations have no soul, they have no scriptural ordination like the church - they are human creations.

That being said, Obama's comments being made in Turkey were inappropriate because they were purely political and were made with a subtext that is clearly intended to condescend Christianity

Dan said...

Cal Thomas, quoted in the Newsweek article, says "No country can be truly 'Christian'. Only people can. God is above all nations, and, in fact, Isaiah says that 'All nations are to him a drop in the bucket and less than nothing'." I would go further to say that there will never be any truly Christian nation until Christ Himself establishes it in His second coming.
Al Mohler states in his blog "the church gains a necessary knowledge any time the distinction between the church and the world is made more evident. Our first concern is and must be the Gospel. It is good that non-Christians know that they are not Christians and that Christians be reminded of that fact that what sinners need is the Gospel of Christ, not merely the lingering morality of the Christian memory." I agree and my prayer is that I, along with all Christians, am ready and willing for God to use me in post-Christian America to, as Mohler puts it, "preach the Gospel as Good News to the perishing." The fields all around us are white for harvest.

Todd Pruitt said...

To all,

There are some very good thoughts here. I am going to wait a little longer before I comment.

Belle Geary said...

I guess it depends on how you define a “Christian” nation. Unlike previous posters, while I agree that our nation has never been a nation unified under Jesus Christ, I do believe we have in the past been a Christian nation. A nation founded on Judeo Christian values, a nation whose beliefs stemmed from the belief that man has certain inalienable rights given to him by God. I believe God established this nation as part of His plan to reach the world for Jesus Christ, and that He blessed and prospered us for that purpose. However, sadly, our nation has strayed far from her roots. We became more concerned with our own comfort and pleasure than with any plan God may have, to the point that many supposedly “Christian” churches actually preach a gospel of prosperity and comfort rather than the Gospel of Christ’s cross and self sacrifice.
God Bless,

Dave Rogel said...

America certainly is "a nation whose beliefs stemmed from the belief that man has certain inalienable rights given to him by God.

However, I don't think that Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, etc. would agree that "God established this nation as part of His plan to reach the world for Jesus Christ, and that He blessed and prospered us for that purpose."

Christianity and Judeo-Christian-flavored Deism are not at all the same thing, and many of the founding fathers held to the latter and not the former.

As for Obama in particular, here's some provocative reading from the Treaty of Tripoli, approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797 and signed immediately by President John Adams:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

(For those of you who were born in the 20th century and not the 18th, 'Musselmen' = Muslims, and 'Mahometan' = Islamic.)

I suppose it would be safe to say that diplomatic engagement with Islamic nations along with any subsequent tone of congeniality and tolerance is not something that President Obama invented, and if it is indeed seen as a bad thing, any ill will must be equally extended to our early Congress and our second president.

If the above quote left any ambiguity, or if anyone is thinking, "What's Tripoli? Isn't that a board game or something?", here's the word from the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

This is exactly what Harley was speaking of: we have the blessed freedom to practice our religion, and our very Constitution forbids that freedom being violated. However, if our religion were made "official", that would inherently violate the religious freedom of non-Christians, just as making our nation Islamic would violate the religious freedom of non-Muslims. The First Amendment does not allow either of these scenarios, and for the best.

All that said, I don't consider it to be un- or anti-Christian to say that America is not a Christian nation. Making any religion official or obligatory is no gauge of actual belief, and should give us no satisfaction as Christians. I don't see the value in a Christian version of Saudi Arabia, were everybody goes to church and acts "Christian" whether they like it or not. Christianity has nothing to do with a country forcing outward adherence to a set of practices; rather it springs out of genuine heartfelt belief and true inner conversion, which no nation can force (e.g. the Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries that Harley pointed out) or fully prevent (e.g. the modern underground church).


Belle Geary said...


My belief that God established this nation to reach the world for Jesus Christ has little to do with the beliefs of the founding fathers. God can work in and through people regardless of man’s intentions. My belief goes back to the original colonizers of this country and the religious persecution they were fleeing.

God Bless,


threegirldad said...

All across the internet, you find people cheering, even groveling over, this statement. It just strikes me as a bit curious that this one snippet has been lifted from the larger comment -- and transformed into something other than his actual words.

As a matter of fact, President Obama first said that we are "a predominately Christian nation" in contrast to Turkey. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:

"I think that where -- where there's the most promise of building stronger U.S.-Turkish relations is in the recognition that Turkey and the United States can build a model partnership in which a predominantly Christian nation and a predominantly Muslim nation, a Western nation and a nation that straddles two continents -- that we can create a modern international community that is respectful, that is secure, that is prosperous; that there are not tensions, inevitable tensions, between cultures, which I think is extraordinarily important.

That's something that's very important to me. And I've said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is -- although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

I say that he got it exactly right. If you want to say that we are "much less predominately Christian" now than we were in the past, you won't get any argument from me.

In one sense, America is just one more nation among all nations, which God has established for His purposes, "having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place" (Acts 17:26). Certainly, America is not a "Christian nation" in the way that Israel was God's chosen "nation." I'm happy to join the voices rejecting that idea.

As for the Treaty of Tripoli, I offer Exhibit B, namely, the numerous Thanksgiving Proclamations unanimously urged by various legislative bodies, and signed by Governors of the Colonies, Presidents of the Continental Congress, and the first several Presidents of the US. Here is the preamble to President Washington's 1795 Proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

As Justin Taylor would urge, read the whole thing.

That hardly strikes me as the product of a mind entirely, or even mostly, beholden to Enlightenment or Deistic thinking.

So, while the Founding Fathers weren't the reincarnation of the Pilgrims, as some well-meaning but misguided folks apparently want to believe, I'm hardly convinced that they were exactly what rabid anti-religionists want to believe.

Will the real Founding Fathers PLEASE STAND UP???

rmc said...

American may have never been a truly Christian nation but laws have to come from somewhere and there was at least enough Christian influence in the past so that we had some idea as a people what is right and what is wrong. We don't even know what marriage is anymore. Something is changing and there is something we are losing.

Harley A. said...

I think most of the discussion really has missed the point of the question (and that includes me). If I understand the question, it is really “is America in 2009 a Christian nation”, regardless of what we think it was founded to be. Ultimately, I think the question requires a definition of what is meant by “Christian nation”.

Are we institutionally Christian? No.

Are the majority of Americans true Christians? No. (my opinion)

Do we have any laws establishing or even slightly favoring Christianity over any other religion? No.

Is “Christianity” as a de facto ideology (however well or poorly understood) assumed at some superficial level by most honest hard-working, generally moral folk? Yes. That’s where I think we get our “Christian nation” brand.

Ryan H. said...

Regardless of the religious background of the founding fathers - whether Christian or not (and it's clear there was more than a bit of a mix), they clearly did not tie Christianity directly into the government fiber enough to make the USA anything resembling a true Christian nation.

The appeal of democracy, in some sense, was always that it would reflect the changing populace, and support dialogue between multiple voices. The USA is and always ways intended to be an inherently pluralistic nation, with dialogue and compromise going on between different groups with different values.

Therefore, I'm in full support when someone says that "American is not a Christian nation." I don't think it is.

threegirldad said...

Ryan H.,

Is it accurate to say that you disagree with the first part of President Obama's statement?

Dave Rogel said...

Bill, sorry about the misunderstanding. I was interpreting things through the lens of intent on the part of the early founders of the country, some of whom were Christian, some of whom were not, all of whom seemed to agree that America should not be a Christian nation (strictly speaking, anyway). Certainly God can work through anyone and any circumstance, and I didn't mean to discredit that.

As for the pilgrims, they were in fact seeking a haven for their particular form of Christianity, but it is interesting to recall that they were fleeing a "Christian nation" in order to do so.

Thanks to TGD for the counterpoint to the Treaty of Tripoli. I apologize if I seemed to present the founding fathers of our country as a unanimously anti-religious bunch. Ryan pointed out that they were "a bit of a mix", and that is certainly true. I presented the Tripoli document only as it was highly relevant to the presidential speech which inspired this blog post in the first place.

Lastly, cheers to Harley for the clarification. I fully agree that, while we are not a Christian nation by any official measure, it is certainly something of a cultural norm. It has long been on the list of things that "good people" do (whether sincerely or not), along with having a white picket fence around the house, baking apple pies, etc. And Christianity is still the majority religion in America, which Obama made clear earlier in the speech.


bennyg612 said...

I do not believe that the US was or is a Christian nation.I think the question of "Is the US a Christian nation?" must be viewed from above ("does God consider the US a Christian nation?") not from below ("do American citizens consider the US a Christian nation?"). Christ made it clear that he did not come to establish a nation or a kingdom that is of this world. The Kingdom of Christ (the only "Christ"ian Kingdom) is a heavenly Kingdom that is evidenced in this world through His Church. God is advancing His Kingdom in this world, but not by establishing nation-states.

Apart from the Church, there is no institution on this earth that is not under the control of the ruler of this world (i.e. Satan). It is the responsibility of the Church (the Kingdom of Christ) to challenge and convict the kingdoms of this world. This is the same with US.

I take particular issue with the view that America began as a Christian nation and has only recently degenerated from its holier state.

These (and many others) happenned under the sanction of this nation before the middle of the 20th century:

*The slaughter and dispossession of the Native Americans
*The centuries long brutal and un-christlike form of slavery practiced in this country
*An equally brutal and destructive civil war (Sherman's March, etc.)
*The enslavement of Chinese immigrants to construct our railways
*Continued inhumane and deadly working conditions for the poor throughout the industrial era.
*The internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII
*Continued and systematic oppression of African-Americans (who were only allowed to vote and to drink from the same water fountains as whites since the 1960's!)

It has been the role of the Church throughout the history of this country to call its leaders to task. And Christ through His Church has been constantly at work to sustain this nation from complete and utter evil (to which it tends). The three Great Awakenings (mid 1700's, early 1800's, and late 1800's) show that Americans have consistently turned away from Christ and have need to be called back to repentance. When reading the writings of the preachers during these time periods, you do not get a sense that Americans are generally Christian, whether in a sprititual or culturally moral sense.

From a biblical and historical perspecitive, I do not believe that the US is a Christian nation. The Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and it is an affront to Christ to label this nation, or any nation, with His Name.

DreamCamelot said...

Only a person, not a nation, can be a Christian. However, American has been founded on many Christian principles and ideas.

Todd, & others, to follow this question, "Is America a Christian nation," I think we may also ask: should we be and is it desirable that we be a nation based on Christian ideals? Should we be neutral? Is it possible to be neutral.
The idea that life is inherently valuable, that the earth is here for humanity to use and be good stewards of(instead of humanity being less important than the earth), and that the state has a limited function (punishing those who do evil), are Christian concepts which we should embrace. Europe's slide towards statism is a reflection of the fact that it has largely regjected Christianity and Christian principles: Europe's birth-rate has slid below replacement level because it is so materialistic and it is has turned to statism as it has lost touch with Christian ideals.

Mike said...

I have begun to rethink my response to Todd's question "are we a christian nation?" I think the answer depends on who is asking the question and what is meant by the term "christian nation".

If, by the question, one means that most of its residents claim to be christian (at least culturally) then the answer to the question is "yes" Certainly to muslims from Arabic nations it appears that way. The answer could also be yes if you consider the founding fathers' references to the "divine" despite their enlightenment influence.

If "christian nation" means that our laws, social mores and attitudes reflect the heart of the christian message then I think the answer is "no". But to the latter application can any nation be a "christian nation"?

Of course there are other permutations of what "christian nation" could possibly mean that I have not explored in this response but, in short, the answer lies in the perspective of the asker and the definition of the term.

how is that for a slightly postmodern response? ;<)

Todd Pruitt said...


I actually don't think your response is postmodern at all. I quite agree with you. It absolutely depends on what we mean by "Christian nation."