With a title like The Myth of a Christian Nation, one would think that the author would have spent more time on the nuances of how the phrase “Christian Nation” is used by people like John Eidsmoe, David Barton, and other scholars writing on the subject. If you’re going to critique a concept, it’s necessary to deal with those who make the claim and define the phrase, which I do in America’s Christian History.1 Wayne Grudem does a good job answering the question “Is the United States a Christian Nation?” in his recently published book Politics According to the Bible (2010), although I disagree with his conclusion that a discussion of the question is not “very helpful in current political conversations” because “[it] just leads to arguments, misunderstanding, and confusion” (65). It seems to me that the best way to avoid misunderstanding and confusion is to be aware of how people are using the designation “Christian nation.” The only way for arguments to be avoided is to say nothing. All discussions lead to arguments. Grudem’s 600-page book is an argument waiting to happen.
Gregory A. Boyd defines “Christian Nation” to mean “‘Christ-like,’ and there never was a time when America as a nation has acted Christlike” (107). With such a narrow definition, then Israel could not be described as God’s chosen people because they didn’t always act like it. Kirk Fordice, the former governor of Mississippi, said on a CNN interview, “The media always refer to the Jewish state of Israel. They talk about the Muslim country of Saudi Arabia, of Iran, or Iraq. We all talk about the Hindu nation of India. America is not a nothing country. It’s a Christian Country.”2 To be accurate, Boyd should have titled his book The Myth of a Christ-Like Nation, but even with this title he would not be telling the whole story.
Like so many who attempt to deal with this subject, Boyd is very selective in whom he quotes to support his claim. Instead of arguing the case himself, he appeals to Richard T. Hughes’ Myths America Lives By. Boyd should have made the argument himself using historical sources that are available to everyone. Then there is his obligatory appeal to the 1797 Treaty with Tripoli which states that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” (199, n. 13). Boyd does not explain the context of the phrase or why the 1805 treaty does not include it.3 Why doesn’t he mention other treaties and documents that contain Christian references?
Let’s look at just two contrary opinions. There are many more. The first is the French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville and his comments found in Democracy in America:
“Each sect [in the United States] adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God . . . . Moreover, all the sects of the United
States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same. It may fairly be believed that a certain number of Americans pursue a peculiar form of worship from habit more than from conviction. In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”4
David J. Brewer, who served on the Supreme Court from 1889 through 1910, made the following observations in his 1905 book The United States a Christian Nation:
- “This republic is classified among the Christian nations of the world” (11).
- “[W]e constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation—in fact, as the leading Christian nation in the world. This popular use of the term certainly has significance. It is not a mere creation of the imagination. It is not a term of derision but has a substantial basis—one which justifies its use” (12).
Brewer then spends twenty-six pages convincingly supporting his claim with historical evidence.
- “In no charter or constitution is there anything to even suggest that any other than the Christian is the religion of this country. In none of them is Mohammed or Confucius or Buddha in any manner noticed. In none of them is Judaism recognized other than by way of toleration of its special creed. While the separation of church and state is often affirmed, there is nowhere a repudiation of Christianity as one of the institutions as well as benedictions of society. In short, there is no charter or constitution that is either infidel, agnostic, or anti-Christian. Wherever there is a declaration in favor of any religion it is of the Christian” (31–32).
- “You will have noticed that I have presented no doubtful facts. Nothing has been stated which is debatable. The quotations from charters are in the archives of the several States; the laws are on the statute books; judicial opinions are taken from the official reports; statistics from the census publications. In short, no evidence has been presented which is open to question” (39).
- “This is a Christian nation. . . .” (40).
- “I could show how largely our laws and customs are based upon the laws of Moses and the teachings of Christ; how constantly the Bible is appealed to as the guide of life and the authority in questions of morals” (39).5
Boyd makes some good points in his book, but his definitions are anachronistic and his analysis of the nature of God’s kingdom is naïve and narrow. Not all Christians can be as easily categorized as Boyd describes them.
Why is this discussion important? America is fighting an ideological war. It’s been going on for some time but with no bloodshed. Secular ideology has co-opted our nation from the inside. A new religio-political threat is emerging around the world that is beginning to have an impact in America: Islam. I realize that not every Muslim is devoted to the radical element of their religion just like not every person who grows up in a Christian home is an adherent to the general principles of Christianity. Like Islam, Christianity has its cultural side. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where most people were either Protestant or Roman Catholic. If you weren’t Jewish, then you were “Christian,” and yet I never heard the gospel preached or discussed. Not once. It wasn’t until college that I heard the gospel.
Islam is different. It has a long-term societal agenda that is contrary to anything we’ve seen in Christendom. It nests in the freedoms of Christianized nations and then steadily eats away at the culture that gave rise to those freedoms. The former Christian nations of Europe have put aside the belief that religion serves as the binding agent of society. Presently, Europe—both Eastern and Western—are living off the capital of Christianity. They have adopted a neutral position on religion. All religions are equal in their sight. Even Christians have fallen for this absurdity. Islam has not. Until America defines what it really is, and until Christians come to realize that there is no neutrality, Islam will have its way in the world.
- Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History, rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2005), chap. 1 [↩]
- “Mississippi Governor Criticized for ‘Christian Nation’ Remark,” Dallas/Fort Worth Heritage (January 1993), 14. Quoted in John W. Whitehead, Religious Apartheid: The Separation of Religion from American Public Life (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), 149. [↩]
- See Gary DeMar, America’s 200-Year War with Islamic Terrorism. Also see DeMar, America’s Christian History, chap. 8. [↩]
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 vols. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 1:303. [↩]
- David J. Brewer, The United States a Christian Nation (Philadelphia, PA: The John C. Winston Company, 1905). Reprinted by American Vision, 1996 and 2010). [↩]