Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

is america a christian nation?

Have Americans created institutions which mirror God and “righteousness” or have we defined a god and his “righteousness” which mirrors our egocentric and dualistic institutions? Do American cultural norms derive from a proper respect for God and His mandates or has American culture developed and propagated a picture of God which coincides with the egoistically derived opinions and dictates of that culture. The general contention of the religious community has generally been that American “ideals”, cultural norms by another name, are largely derived from our national, historic adherence to biblical principles, i.e. respect for higher authority, self reliance, personal morality, eternal vigilance against “evil”, governance by the morally superior, and commitment to the “church”. These principles translate politically into the standard conservative virtues of a strong national defense, the right to own firearms, an unhindered free market economy, limited application of public policy as a means to promote the general welfare, and government support for the institutional church through special legal status. The basic issue behind this question is the age old chicken or the egg controversy. Did culture result from the application of principle or did the development and definition of principle derive from pre-existing cultural mores and consciousness?

 

In considering the answer to this question, I go back to the time honored basic principles which identify politically the purveyors of the story about America, the Christian nation. Do these political principles coincide with and naturally derive from the Bible or do they exist because they seem natural to the human ego?

 

Is the right, indeed the duty, to bear arms and use redemptive violence clearly biblical? By redemptive violence, I mean, any application of force, especially deadly force, as the method to oppose “evil”, however that may be defined and identified. Redemptive violence, in this context, would include that associated with the workings of our legal system and the actions of the military. Depending on the emphasis placed on different parts of the Bible, a case can be made for answering yes or no to this general question. Pointing to many Old Testament examples in particular, one can conclude that violence is God’s chosen way to deal with “evil”. On the other hand, if one wants to see another way, the Sermon on the Mount provides that alternative. Obviously then on the subject of violent opposition to perceived evil, how one interprets the Bible allows for a difference of opinion. Therefore, the societal institutions and cultural ideals which are created as result of that interpretation are not fixed and inevitable. The cultural outcome hinges on which viewpoint of scripture prevails. That prevailing viewpoint the one which has been largely handed down from generation to generation from long before there was an America to fall under its influence. The identical same observation could be made in regards to any of the other “biblical principles” which supposedly undergird American institutions and serve as the mantra of the intimately associated “conservative politics”. How does the emphasis of free market capitalism on the competition for and the accumulation of material goods square with the New Testament call for self sacrifice and respect for others? That reconciliation process again involves picking and choosing scripture verses for emphasis, as does any other viewpoint.

 

Admittedly the above observations do not really answer the underlying “chicken or the egg” question, but they do demonstrate that constantly trying to sell America as being special because of a “Christian” background is not tenable. There is too much variability in what can be construed as “Christian principle”.

 

Often, those who claim America as a “Christian nation” want to differentiate the historical faith of the Founding Fathers from that of current day society. That differentiation seems to imply that America enjoys some residual blessings because our forefathers were faithful to the Bible, but today our society is in danger of losing God’s goodwill and favor because we have abandoned our former faithfulness.

 

In this atmosphere, every national calamity becomes an opportunity to opine about America’s moral decay and to rally the faithful behind those cultural norms which previous generations considered biblical. This again ignores the fact that one can make normative a wide variety of behaviors based on isolated Bible passages. Where no clear understanding of Christian principle exists, there can be no undeniable definition of a Christian much less a Christian nation.

 

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