Red, White and Blue

Written by Jim Symcox

With the 4th of July just around the corner, it’s a good time to reflect on how Americans conceive the settlement and founding of our nation.

Now over 220 years old, the U.S. Constitution of 1787 is still the highest law in the land, and has outlived the constitutions of all other countries. Its longevity rests in the enduring principles upon which it was founded. The American Founding Fathers understood that biblical law provides for the most suitable form of civil government any country can muster. The Founders forged into America’s legal documents and civil institutions biblical principles that have stood the test of time-even to this day. But what biblical principles did the Founders use? And do the biblical foundations that carried this nation for so long stand a chance against the present surge of ungodly political activism?

Do you sometimes feel you’re the only one seeking to discuss today’s worldly issues from a Christian viewpoint? Do you often feel challenged by others to explain what you believe? You are not alone! Become the person God intended you to be by sharing your Christian faith in your home, workplace, church and community.

If you want to start an argument at your next family gathering, tap your drinking glass with your fork, take a deep breath, and ask, “Was America founded as a Christian nation?”

The overwhelming majority of Americans have always seen themselves as living in a Christian nation. Though the idea of America as a “Christian nation” has been understood in different ways by different groups, I think one could make a pretty good argument that today’s advocates of a “Christian America” have a large chunk of American history on their side. This is more a statement about the influence of Christianity on American culture and less a statement about whether or not the founders believed that they were creating a uniquely Christian nation or whether those who believe today that America is a Christian nation are correct in their assumptions.

Few topics seem to elicit such a wide range of reactions and opinions in contemporary America. Some, like Christian writer David Barton, have a made a career out of uncovering the religious motivations behind the founding of the United States. The most recent repetition of this impulse in the evangelical community occurred in the last couple of months with comments made by actor Kirk Cameron to Christianity Today. Promoting his film “Monumental,” Cameron argued that a “trail of freedom” runs from the ancient “Hebrew republic” to the United States, and suggested that even Thomas Jefferson might have been a Christian. On the other end of the spectrum are books such as The Godless Constitution by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. As the title implies, these scholars de-emphasize the role of religion in the nation’s founding.

To this polarized debate comes historian John Fea’s recent book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Fea, a historian at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., divides his analysis of this question into three parts: the American history of the “Christian nation” idea, the role of religion in the American Revolution, and the personal religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers.

First, Fea shows that Americans have always attempted to associate the Christian faith with their national government. John Adams’s political friends, for instance, spent a good deal of the election of 1800 trashing the supposed godlessness of his rival Thomas Jefferson. One minister worried that a Jefferson presidency would result in “a nation of Atheists.” A half-century later, Northerners and Southerners both claimed divine sanction for their cause during the Civil War. In 1885 even the Supreme Court got in on the action, maintaining that “this is a Christian nation.” And in the Cold War atmosphere of the mid-twentieth-century, Congress added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and replaced the national motto of “E pluribus unum” with “In God We Trust.” There is no question that Americans, on the whole, have consistently sought to uphold the Christian character of the nation through the past two centuries.

But Fea’s next section complicates the story for Christian America’s defenders. Examining the period from the founding of Jamestown (1607) to the ratification of the Constitution (1788), Fea cautions readers against an overly positive view of the righteousness of the American colonies. Rampant mistreatment of Native Americans and the importation of African slaves severely marred the Christian societies that the colonies’ leaders hoped to establish. And while the Puritans of New England enjoyed religious freedom for themselves, they often failed to grant similar liberty of conscience to Quakers and other religious dissenters.

In some ways, the revolution itself poses even more problems for those who want to portray the founding of the nation as a Christian event. In Chapter Seven, “The Revolutionary Pulpit,” Fea demonstrates that few colonial clergymen made adequate distinctions between “civil liberty as taught by patriots and spiritual liberty as taught in the Bible.” One New York minister identified the colonists as God’s “elect” and bluntly maintained that “the cause of this American continent . . . is the cause of God.” In addition to highlighting such problematic rhetoric, Fea encourages us to consider how the revolution failed to conform to the Bible’s injunctions to submit to governing authorities. Clergymen too often twisted passages such as Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 to justify armed rebellion. Moreover, the colonists almost never invoked historic “just war” theory to justify the revolution because, Fea leads us to believe, the rebellion could not be justified on those grounds. While Christians took a backseat to no one in their enthusiasm for the revolution, their involvement in the conflict does not necessarily make the rebellion a Christian event.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea

In his final section, Fea turns to the personal religious beliefs of several of the Founding Fathers themselves. This part is likely to disappoint readers looking for unambiguously orthodox Christians as well as those who expect to find godless infidels. Fea makes clear that three of the most prominent founders—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—cannot be considered orthodox Christians. None of the three, for example, believed in the deity of Christ. Moreover, Jefferson famously removed the supernatural passages from the gospels in order to form what he considered to be a more authentic account of Jesus’ worthy sayings.

Yet some of the lesser-known founders were in fact Christians of traditional beliefs. In particular, John Witherspoon, John Jay, and Samuel Adams all subscribed to historic Christian doctrines. George Washington’s faith, Fea concludes, “was just too ambiguous” to be neatly placed in either camp. Fea’s admirable humility on this point reminds us of the difficulties inherent in interpreting the deepest convictions of people several centuries removed from the present day.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? is an excellent introduction to the thorny issue of the role of religion in the American founding. Partisans on either side of the culture wars will not be satisfied with Fea’s conclusions, but that is probably a good thing. As Fea points out in his introduction, “We need to practice history not because it can win us political points or help us push our social and cultural agendas forward, but because it has the amazing power to transform our lives.” Fea takes the historical record on its own terms and helps us see more clearly the incredible complexity of our nation’s religious heritage.

Unfortunately, the history of the American founding has become a political tool. As a result, most people dismiss the complexity of the past to cherry-pick something to meet present-day agendas.

The reality here also is that what should be, or what we would like for it to be, doesn’t mean that it always is.  We have to be very careful how we use certain words.  Not all who claim to be a Christian are a Christian.

To be a Christian, Jesus is the One you need.  You need him alone.  Your works won’t help you (Rom. 3:10-12; Isaiah 64:6), nor will your sincerity.  You can never be good enough and you have nothing to offer God except your sinfulness.  It is only by the love and grace of God found in Jesus and His sacrifice that you can be delivered from the righteous wrath of God upon all who have broken His law.  Jesus saves you from God’s righteous judgment.

Undoubtedly, Jesus was a tremendous figure of ancient times and his deep spiritual teachings found in the New Testament draw millions.  But, just because someone says he or she is a Christian, does not mean they are.  Within Christianity are basic, essential doctrines as defined by the Old and New Testaments.  The Bible teaches monotheism (Exodus 20:3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8); that God is a Trinity (Matt. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 13:14; Jude 20-21); that Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1,14; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8); that Jesus rose from the dead physically (1 Cor. 15:14; 17); that salvation is by grace alone through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 5:4; Rom. 3:20).  Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) Jesus declared that he was the only access to God the Father.  To deny this is to deny what Jesus said.  The Bible teaches us about Jesus’ Virgin Birth (Matt. 1:23). Without the virgin birth, we cannot substantiate the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus being God in flesh.  This would put at risk what Jesus said in John 8:24, where he said, “I said, therefore, to you, that you will die in your sins.  For if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”  And the Doctrine of the Trinity (Matt. 28:19) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (see also, Matt. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6). This doctrine is not represented by a single verse per se, though it is hinted at.  The doctrine of the Trinity is arrived at systematically by looking at the totality of Scripture.  It is, nevertheless, the proper representation of scriptural revelation concerning the nature of God.

However, there are those who claim to be a Christian yet deny one or more of the essentials of the Christian faith. Being a Christian means you have given Jesus your life. That you have placed your faith, trust, reliance and hope in Him, by dying to yourself and living through Him.  Being a Christian means that you are changed on the inside, not controlled from the outside.  It means that your heart has been changed by the presence of the one and only Holy God.  Christianity isn’t about rules and regulations to follow.  It is about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and access to the true God only through His son Jesus Christ. Being a Christian means that you have encountered the true and living God and that you have undergone a change in your heart and soul.  It means that you are not restricted to the laws of right and wrong in order to please God because you cannot please God by what you do.  God will only find pleasure in you through Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian means to follow Christ, to desire Him, to fellowship with Him, to be indwelt by Him, and to bring glory to Him in your life.  Being a Christian means living for Christ.  It means seeking to do His will and not your own.  It won’t always be easy.  Satan will make your life difficult at times.  You may lose friends and things won’t necessarily get better overnight.  Being a Christian can be costly.  In fact, Jesus said that you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23).  That is what Jesus wants you to do, to follow Him always — even when others don’t want you to.

If you are not a Christian, and want to be delivered from the righteous judgment of God, then come to the One who died for the sins of the world.  Come to the One who died for sinners (Matt. 11:28).  Believe and trust in Jesus. Receive Jesus, who is God in flesh, who died and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4) as your Lord and Savior. Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins.  Receive Christ (John 1:12) and the sacrifice he offered on the cross. Turn from your sins.  Only He can wash you clean from your sins and only Jesus can deliver you from the future judgment of a holy and infinite God.  Pray to Jesus.  Seek Him.  Ask Him to save you.  He will.  Only the Jesus of the Bible can do that.  Jesus is God in flesh, the creator.  God is a trinity and Jesus is the second person of the trinity.   If you would like to know more about how you can become a Christian or discuss any part of this with someone, feel free to give me a call at the number listed below.

Jim is President of the Hard Facts – Soft Skills company.  He is a former Texas state trooper, entrepreneur, and corporate executive, and brings a uniquely powerful perspective and incredible resume to improving performance, productivity and profitability in organizations.  Jim has been coaching and mentoring leaders, professionals and business owners for many years. He has studied with the Leadership Coach Academy and he is an active member of the International Coach Federation.

To contact Jim, please call: (210) 494-HFSS (4377); send an email to:  jims@hf-ss.com;  or go to the Hard Facts – Soft Skills website: www.hf-ss.com for more information.