From time to time, the assertion that the United States is a Christian nation rises in our discourse. This politician, or that media pundit declares that it is time that we realize that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that we must honor those values.
I disagree with those statements on so many levels. Were our Founding Fathers as ardently Christian as we would say? Even if they were, did they not set forth, by the prompting of Baptists, to protect the religious expression of all people in the Bill of Rights? Even more fundamentally, is the word ‘Christian’ an adjective? I know it is used that way, but should it. Aren’t people who follow the way of the cross the only things that can be described as Christian?
You see, that’s what it all comes down to. To be labeled Christian means that whatever is being described as such follows Jesus. It’s not a statement about what I believe, even though it’s tied up in there too. At it’s core it’s a statement about how one lives her life. Does she live as a Christian, following Christ, or does she not. Someone can claim to believe in God and love Jesus all they want, but that is only part of the story. To be Christian is to be transformed into the image of Christ.
It is at that point that I would argue that the United States never has been and can never be a Christian nation. Our history bears the scars that prove this fact. Memories of racism, war, hatred, and oppression litter our shared consciousness, and even though we have come a long way, we mustn’t be fooled. Our nation does not live a Christian life, and for that reason is not a Christian nation.
- Racism is still present in our nation. As is seen in recent news from Ferguson, New York, Cincinnati, or many other places, the lines that divide our nation still fall along lines of color, and while Sunday is still one of the most segregated days of the week, shrugging off our racist ways, as is common in our country, is not Christian. Before forgiveness there must come a confession of sin.
- Intolerance of the foreigners among us is also a defining mark of the United States. Our nation found itself in turmoil and comprehensive immigration reform was derailed because tens of thousands of children were flooding into our country seeking asylum, protection from violence, sexual abuse, and gang warfare. Many US citizens chanted for them to go home and to stop invading our country. The Bible teaches us to welcome the stranger as if they are one of us. (Because in the end they are.)
- The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the CIA’s practice of torture during the Bush Administration. I find it difficult to believe that the Jesus who taught us to turn the other cheek and to love and pray for our enemies would approve of “enhanced interrogation,” regardless if it produced results or not. Each person is created in God’s image and deserves the dignity that comes with that. Period.
- Drone warfare has been a defining mark of the Obama administration, killing many people. What is scary is that we often don’t know who we’re killing or how many have died. Even by conservative estimates many innocent people have died. Thanks to that we cause thousands if not millions of people to live in constant fear that they, too, will be caught in the line of fire simply because they live in the same country as terrorists. While I doubt Jesus would support the killing of any person, I am certain that the death of countless innocents is not a Christian action.
Sadly and depressingly this list could go on, but may it suffice to say that the United States, by its actions, never has been, is not, and never will be a Christian nation. Even worse, by claiming that the United States is Christian, we mar and muddy the name of Christ, and we make it so that many people want nothing to do with Jesus. So maybe a better use of our time is not defending our country as being Christian, but instead is living as a prophetic community within this nation, calling out such evil practices for what they are, and demanding that they be changed so that justice prevails more and more each day.