On August 7, 2006, I wrote a brief introductory review of Gregory A. Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation. I pointed out that Boyd was dependant on Richard T. Hughes’ Myths America Lives By for many of his historical arguments. At the time, I did not have a copy of Hughes’ book, but I suspected that his “Myth of a Christian Nation” chapter did not include much real history to make his case. As usual, Hughes appeals to the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli in an attempt to make his case. Like Boyd, Hughes does not do his own research but depends on William G. McLoughlin’s Soul Liberty: The Baptists’ Struggle in New England.[1] So we have Boyd quoting Hughes quoting McLoughlin. What none of these authors does is quote the whole range of historic documentation on the founding of America.

Quoting one line of a treaty without considering its textual and historical context is like trying to use the Bible to support socialism and communism by appealing to Jesus’ discussion with the rich young ruler and Luke’s account of Christians in the church in Jerusalem who voluntarily sold some of their land to benefit those in need (Acts 4:32–37; 5:4).[2] Those who do this neglect to consider passages where we are told that God blessed Job with great wealth (Job 42:10–12), and He gives us power to make wealth (Deut. 8:18). This says nothing about the warning given to Israel about wanting a savior-king, something that would be required to create a socialist “paradise” (1 Sam. 8).

All of God’s Word must be studied, not just bits and pieces yanked out of a larger context. In the same way, if you are going to write on the founding of America, then you must look at all of the documentation. Why is it that the Treaty of Tripoli is singled out, but nothing is said about official documents that are specifically Christian like the official congressional declarations calling for special days of fasting, prayer, and humiliation “through the mediation of Jesus Christ” to “obtain his pardon and forgiveness”? While the Declaration of Independence “affirmed a minimalist religious sentiment,” according to Hughes, these documents—one drafted on March 16, 1776 and the other on November 1, 1777—affirm a maximalist Christian sentiment. They appear on both side of the Declaration.

Hughes mentions the Trinity as a particular Christian truth that “never define[s] the nation’s legal tradition” (66). If this is the case, then why does the 1783 treaty with Great Britain open with “In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity”? Like the 1787 Treaty with Tripoli, this treaty was also signed by John Adams. Benjamin Franklin also signed it! In 1822, the United States, along with Great Britain and Ireland, ratified a treaty that also begins with “In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity.” The 1848 Treaty with Mexico begins with “In the name of Almighty God.” The treaty also states that both countries are “under the protection of Almighty God, the author of peace.” Treaties are legal documents.

Even with his minimalist approach, Hughes has to admit “that in spite of the stipulations of the First Amendment, America nonetheless emerged in several respects as a Christian nation” (67). Like so many other Mythstorians, Hughes seems to be clueless on the meaning of the First Amendment. The prohibition was addressed to Congress because the state Constitutions were explicitly Christian.

Gregory Boyd has leaned on a weak reed in the work of Richard Hughes. One should be careful to rely on a book that includes almost no historical documentation and is endorsed by Peter J. Gomes, an admitted homosexual who wrote in the August 17, 1992, Op-Ed section of the New York Times, “Homophobic? Re-Read Your Bible.”


[1] (Hanover, N.H.: Brown University Press, 1991).
[2] For a discussion of these passages, see John R. Richardson, Christian Economics: The Christian Message to the Market Place (Houston, TX: St. Thomas Press, 1966), 60–69.