April 30, 2009

Not a Christian Nation

I'm no fan of the "coexist" bumper sticker fad, or the darker side of tolerance and relativism that it can epitomize, but I really don't agree with all of the mythology about how godly this nation used to be, or that we used to be so righteous but some shadowy conspiracy ruined it. And I don't think most Americans believe these tales either--including Christian Americans who have read enough American history. The truth is that the Founding Fathers--though many of them were religious--were not interested in creating a religious system of government. And the church has had plenty of opportunity to shape our culture, but we have chosen to fill our days with money, TV, and now the Internet, instead. The government, the devil, and "the world" aren't our biggest problems in this country; we are.

Is President Obama wrong that we are not a Christian nation? What percentage of Americans do we actually believe are saved--and living like followers of Christ? What percentage of our politicians? I would think that Obama is only saying the same thing that most evangelists believe today. Recall that we've shifted to being a destination for Christian missionaries from around the world. There still may be large groups of older white people and rednecks who oppose gays and "socialism," in the Bible Belt or somewhere, but a majority of spiritually healthy and growing Christians?

Was it "Christian America" that drove the Native Americans onto reservations and broke our treaties to grab their land? That wrote 3/5 representation for slaves into the Constitution? Do we really portray Christ to the world--or ourselves--when our "Christian" presidents insist on wars for oil and torturing prisoners, or when we thrive on corporate greed--often on the backs of third world child labor--and continue to mistreat minorities in our own country? When we are the market that demands the world's drugs and pornography? I'm not eager to call that kind of nation "Christian," and the tiny percentage of our wealth that we share with the poor doesn't make up for how we spend the rest of it.

So, what are we? And what do most Americans unfamiliar with our myths believe we are? America is what it has long or always been: a diverse society. The proverbial melting pot. A crazy mix of everyone. The selfish and the sinful, mostly. Catholics and Jews and immigrants, even when they were persecuted by their Protestant Christian majority neighbors. Blacks and other minorities, even when those groups were blatantly denied civil and human rights by the "more-godly" government of the day. We are a country (sometimes) open to the dregs of the world, to the "huddled masses yearning to be free," even if not yearning to be Christian.

America is a place for religious freedom, not government-sponsored Christianity. I don’t believe we ever had a religion quiz to become a citizen. I hope we never had "Jew quotas" to maintain political dominance by Protestant Christianity. And I doubt that Pentecostal Christianity, for example, would have been allowed to take root here if the Founding Fathers had given the government the power to say what correct religion was. Our Constitution makes possible the freedom to be whatever we see fit--as long as we don’t violate the rights of others. Even if we want to be homeschooling atheists, or granola-eating Christians, or college-educated members of the NRA. That isn't something new that the liberals have foisted on the rest; that's our heritage. Freedom. To worship as we see fit, but not required to worship. 

Government isn't God's tool to make or keep America godly and Americans' attitude toward government probably wasn't all that godly. The Founding Fathers thought government was a power-hungry beast. Go to the library and read the Federalist Papers. The American colonists thought it was their right to seize control of their own destiny when they didn’t like the (Christian) government of England. We revolted instead of submitting to God-established authorities. What are we? We're a federal republic of government-suspicious rebels, not a theocracy or a Christian democracy. 

Yes, Christians should participate in the political process. Why did we ever stop? But look to government as the solution to our culture? Look to just one political party, specifically? And tell our kids yarns about someone stealing our birthright? Until large numbers of radical Christians are willing to be politicians, I don't plan to waste much hope on government solutions. I have more hope in the possibility of a grassroots revival than in trickle-down salvation of America from a someday-Christian government. And we are wasting time and energy blaming the president, the godless media, or the United Nations instead of looking into our own hearts for the cause of our culture's demise.

We're not a Christian nation, and that's why we need Jesus here in America more than ever. Jesus, not the return of a fairy tale government to love us and save us. The sooner we accept this truth, the better.

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