I hear people declare, “This is a Christian Nation!” Like most sweeping statements, we have to push for clarity. What do we mean when we say “Christian Nation?”
Debate rages back and forth about whether our founders were all Christians. Were they? Only Jesus knows. What we can say for sure is they shared a worldview that drew from scripture. They read the Bible and saw there was a God who worked in history. They had a sense that God controlled outcomes and His favor was required for human success. Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…” comes from scripture.
We also have to say our founders had blind spots, as do we all. Jefferson, for example, was willing to accept that people of other racial backgrounds did not have as many rights as white, English speaking, Anglican males. Lest we pick merely on the Southerners, New Englanders were willing to profit from the slave trade, no matter what was preached on Sunday. Being influenced by the Bible did not and does not automatically make a nation Christian.
In the middle 1800’s, there arose in American thinking the idea that God had a unique mission for the United States. Unlike the Old World, Americans were a new chosen people meant to usher in a new Messianic age. Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were extreme forms of this thinking. This idea caught hold in conservative circles, that God had chosen America as the “new Israel.”
While there is no doubt God has blessed our country and given us perhaps more than any other nation in history, there is no trustworthy revelation that demonstrates God has ever made a salvation covenant with the United States. Since the New Testament, God’s salvation covenant is with those who claim Jesus as Savior and follow Him. Thus, our country is not immune from the consequences of our actions or sins. God may choose to bless, use, or punish any country. A country may be given opportunities and blessings, but that does not make a nation “Christian.”
In the 1950’s there again rose the idea that United States was “one nation, under God.” These words were inserted into the pledge of allegiance in 1954; “In God we trust” was made the official motto of the United States in 1956. One factor driving these changes the anti-Communist fervor of the times. The reasoning went “If Communists don’t believe in God, by golly, we are going to claim Him.”
The 1950’s were an exceptional time in American history. Church attendance was at an all-time high; there was a shared Judeo-Christian moral code of conduct; and conformity was prized in culture at large. Oddly, there was a huge growth in Christian institutions, but that did not equate to Christians living counter-cultural lives. God was more of “cause” instead of a relationship. Jesus told us you can say “Lord, Lord” but that doesn’t mean you know Him. Making God into our motto does not make us a Christian nation.
So is the United States a Christian nation? The answer to the question is the same as it has always been: Only if Jesus followers follow Jesus. When Jesus followers love our neighbors, love our enemies, forgive those who stand against us, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him, we have the chance to be yeast in our nation. We can be the mustard seed that flourishes and provides refuge. We can be the people who have found a relationship with God through Jesus is worth more than any country can ever offer.
In this era, it is not the label of “Christian Nation” that matters. It is the Jesus Followers in a nation, that do His words, that make a difference.