My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place. John 18:38
For thought we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
2 Corinthians 10:3
The Christian Fiction section at the book store has always been a oddity to me. As a kid I would make a beeline toward it to get the latest adventure of the Cooper kids, the evangelical equivalent of the Hardy Boys, only to be disappointed that The Door in the Dragon’s Throat had no dragon in it. I later discovered that Frank Peretti did write books with actual dragons in them but overall I felt a bit disillusioned by this section of the local book store. These days I walk by this section and chuckle a bit. Labeling a section Christian Fiction has got to seem a little silly to those outside the house of faith.
Recently this section has got me wondering about my beliefs. Was there anything that I held dear (like belief in dragons) that needed to be put to rest and placed in the fiction section of my brain. Fiction is great but when mixed with reality can be disastrous. I have wrestled with several issues recently but one in particular I keep running up against. It is the fiction that America is, or ever was, a Christian nation.
In the recent conversations I have had the privilege to be a part of I have heard alot of my Christian fellows speak of America as a Christian nation. Many of these people are well intentioned and I can see why they think this because I used to believe it myself. The arguments usually begin with, “because we are a Christian nation we must not allow law X to be passed or allow group Y to succeed in their agenda” If these objectives fail then, as a nation, we are disobeying God and we will receive judgement. This has become, to me, the Christian equivalent of, “then the terrorists will win.” The myth of the Christian nation is a long held and cherished belief of evangelicalism but I think the time has passed for us to put this comforting fiction aside and embrace a reality that is far more expansive.
For a long time I thought we were a Christian nation too. In my evangelical education we were taught that the Mayflower Compact and some lines from the Declaration of Independence were proof of this. As I got older though I realized that we are not governed by these documents at all; no more than we are governed by John Adam’s love letters, the Jefferson Bible or George Washington’s secret missals to the Masons of Westerly Pass. We are governed by the United States Constitution.
The Constitution makes it pretty clear that this is a secular nation. Aside from the word “Providence” in the preamble or the obligatory “the Year of our Lord” at the end there is only one mention of religion in the whole of the document. In Article VI it states very clearly that "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." In a twist of irony those that shouted from the rooftops to vote against Obama because he might have been a Muslim were simultaneously making the founding fathers role in their graves.
|When asked about being in |
Christian Book Stores this band said,
"What the f*** are we doing there?"
The word “Providence” creates some problems for us evangelicals because we have a projection problem. Overall, and I am guilty of this too, we like to claim things that sound Christian as Christian (remember the band Evanesence?). We need to remember that just because they mention Providence does not mean they believe in God the same way we do or even in the same God we do. Many of the founding fathers were deists and, of those that were protestants, most would be labeled nominal by today’s evangelicals. Sure, the founders took some ideas from the Judeo-Chrstian tradition. They also borrowed heavily from the Enlightenment (a decidedly non-Christian movement). There is evidence to support that the founders borrowed many ideas from the Iroquois. At that time, the Iroquois League was the oldest, most highly evolved participatory democracy on Earth. They took the best ideas from multiple traditions and made something great. I would ask that my tradition, the Christian one, be respectful of the other streams that are trying to make America great too. This, I think, the founding fathers would want.
The founders were smart but that does not mean they, or our nation is Christian. If we were a Christian nation why didn’t we obey the article in Romans 13 about submitting to governing authorities? The last time I checked there is not a clause in Paul’s argument that says, “Disregard this if you are being taxed without representation because that just ain’t fair.” There were injustices that the colonies suffered but we have to admit that the founding fathers, like us today, did a hefty amount of picking and choosing which scriptures to base their more perfect union on. Thomas Jefferson did this quite literally.
Today I hear the rallying cry of my fellow Christians to, “take America back for God!” That statement begs a question; when were the days America was for God? When were these mythic good old days? Were they before or after we got rich off the backs of millions of African slaves? Was that before or after we committed genocide against the natives of this continent and broke every treaty we had with them? Was it before or after we sent our sons into the meat grinder of civil war? Was it before or after we forcibly displaced thousands of Palestinians to create “God’s” nation in the Middle East? When was the time America was a Christian nation?
It strikes me as ironic that the “Taking America back for God” crowd claims that they are defending the Constitution. What most of them are doing goes against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The first Congress assembled rejected a proposal to make Christianity the official religion of the United States. Shortly after they penned the Bill of Rights to ensure that would never happen. Going back further in our history it becomes clear that the last thing the Puritans wanted was a theocracy. Let us not forget that we fought a war for independence from a country where Church and State were essentially one. Christians, just like everyone else, do not handle power well. The founding fathers understood this.
Those early Christians, and many explosive Christian movements in other parts of the world today, understood something that we are missing. They were under no illusions that they were the ones in power. Maybe it is that illusion that is paradoxically giving us the tools to “change things” while blunting our Kingdom impact. We are fighting a culture war with secular legislation while at the same time loosing the hearts and minds of those we are called to love. It doesn't help that when we do get power it is largely to shore up the myth that we are a Christian nation like making sure kids say "under God in a Pledge that wasn't even written until the 1950's. Maybe the best thing to happen to us would be to loose the culture war altogether. To, in the words of Greg Boyd, stop using secular power over people and start embracing Christ’s power under people. Maybe it would look like giving up on the dream of a Christian nation. Maybe it would look like we are dying out. Maybe it would look like all the political boogie men have won. After some time, maybe it would start to look like resurrection.
If you are interested in exploring this topic further Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation is a good place to start. Don’t have time to read a book? This interview goes over some of the key points.
And now...talk amongst yourselves.