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Friday, September 23, 2016

Can Our Nation Ever Be Again What It Never Was?

Paul Louis Metzger (click here for a bio) has attempted to write an encouraging article to those Christians who are dismayed over the ever changing state of affairs in America. The title of the article is just too long to write here but a link to the article is provided (click here for the article). 

The changes we see today have some religiously conservative Christians believe that they are being persecuted. To this, Metzger accurately describes our changing status as being a lost of privilege in society. That is that we Evangelicals no longer have the social and cultural clout we use to have.

To better respond to the changes, Metzger suggests that Evangelicals develop a wider historical perspective to better process the discomfort that many are feeling. And the first response to that suggestion is what this particular blogpost wants to focus on. Metzger mentions that some Evangelicals want to make America Christian again. At this point, Metzger rightly questions whether America was ever a Christian nation in the first place. And in trying to briefly discuss that subject, despite providing some good insights into the subject, he never really defines what a Christian nation is. He does provide a link to a good discussion on the subject (click here for that discussion) by Mark Noll and George Marsden. It might be of interest that a comment of mine is posted on that blogpost.  As for their discussion, what is important to note is that this question of whether America was a Christian nation was first brought up during another time period of significant social upheaval and change. And thus people were looking for ways to reestablish some semblance of order and a return to an old status quo.

Using material from both Metzger's article and the blogpost discussion he linked to, we could surmise that the following criteria are used to determine whether a nation is a Christian nation:
  • Were our founding documents Christian?
  • Were our founding leaders Christian?
  • How much do our laws reflect Christian values.
  • Did Americans believe or claim that America was a Christian nation?
  • How did we treat those who were different? 

We should note here that there is a certain self-aggrandizement one sees in Christians who claim that America was a Christian nation. In fact, that aggrandizement goes back to the Puritans who, in an effort to interpret all of their experiences through the eyes of the Scriptures, saw themselves as being a new Israel or, as one Puritan, the future governor John Winthrop,  described their settlement: 'A city upon a hill.'  Thus, the same practice of self-exaltation can be seen in those Evangelicals who want America to better reflect the Christian values on which they see America was founded.

As for the first 3 or even 4 questions listed above, the answers, according to both Metzger as well as Noll and Marsden, are not decisive but consist of mixed results. Were there some Christian influences in our founding documents? If the answer is yes, then, according to Noll, Christian references in our founding documents were limited or minimal. Marsden stated that The Constitution was mostly secular, but that did not mean that it was anti-religious. In fact, if one reads The Constitution as well as the Constitutional debates that preceded the writing of The Constitution, there were very few references to God and religion made.

As for our Founding Fathers, Marsden makes the point that most of their references to God were made more from a Deistic point of view rather than a Evangelical perspective. Marsden refers to Jonathan Edwards And George Whitfield, the two greatest evangelists during early American times, and how they believed that most Americans were not Evangelical Christians. 


Noll then starts discussing the last question asked above. In terms of how Americans regarded and treated Native Americans and Blacks, Noll correctly sees Americans as having fallen well short of any Christian standard. Such produces a hypocrisy for any claim that America was a Christian nation. And to make matters worse, according to Noll, while the patriots battled Britain because of the slavery instituted by the British Parliament over the colonies, it was the British who actually preceded America in prohibiting slave trading and slavery. Thus, Marsden added that a Christian view of America's past must include a humility because of and honesty about our significant failures such as slavery and our treatment of Native Americans.

The current concern for regarding America as a Christian nation, according to Noll, has more to do with our present circumstances than concern for history and the past. And according to the discussion, our present situation revolves around the concern many Christians have over the current plight of families, sexual morality, and the connection people from different generations have. There are multiple ways by which Christians could address these issues. The wrong way, according to the discussion, would be to take a simplified view of America's past where what is reported is heavily filtered by one's agenda. Such a way is what we see today as promoted by some Evangelicals.

Again, Metzger summarizes what Noll and Marsden discuss in some detail. That America's Christian roots and past is a mixed record. But such doesn't fit the agenda of some Christians who want to stop and reverse the current anything goes ethic. In other words, the talk of a Christian America by some of my fellow religiously conservative Christians is really about seizing control. Some of my fellow religiously conservative Christians want to regain the lost privileged status mentioned by Metzger. We can distinguish those who want to merely seize control from those who share power with others as equals by how one sees history. Those who see it as for the mixed bag that it is, are more interested in sharing power with others. Those who simplify America and its religious roots seem to want to seize power. For those Evangelicals who want to seize control, they will more likely fall to the same temptations that our American Christian forefathers did. They will become blind to the sinful ways in which they treat others.


It is at this point that the content of this blogpost diverges from the article being reviewed. For while this blogpost was written to discuss the question of whether America was a Christian nation, Metzger has a higher purpose of trying to prepare Christians for facing the trials we are facing today whether those trials come from the mere loss of privilege and control to real persecution.





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