Is America No Longer a “Christian Nation”?

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.

Norman Wirzba, who teaches Christian theology at Duke Divinity School, has written a sobering article in which, based on the kind of rhetoric that we see during our presidential campaign this year, he declares that “Christian America” has come to an end.

What makes a nation, or a people, or a land, “Christian” is not the number of churches we have or the popularity of Christian culture. A “Christian nation” is marked by its commitment to Godly values such as love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, civility, care for the least of us, that sort of thing.

But instead, Wirzba points out, “polls and election results communicate clearly that this is a nation consumed by fear, anger and suspicion, none of which are Christian virtues.”

Read the article here: “Why We Now Can Declare the End of Christian America.”

I don’t think this is a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. I think the loss of Christian values in the public sphere has affected both parties, in different ways.

I’m pointing out this article not to be alarmist, or pessimistic. In fact, to me it is just one more confirmation that Karl Rahner’s vision of the future of Christianity was truly prophetic.

A half a century ago, Rahner correctly predicted that Christianity would increasingly lose its social and cultural privilege, and become just one more among many competing world-views, vying to promote its values and interests in a public forum increasingly dominated by the demands of science, technology and the marketplace.

To my mind, the best thing that Christians can do is stop worrying about whether America is a “Christian nation” or not. Instead, let’s worry about whether we are truly followers of Jesus Christ.

Rahner also said “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” I know I beat this drum a lot, but I think it’s a message that bears repeating. We already see Christianity shrinking, both in terms of its size and its influence. Are those of us who remain committed to following the way of Jesus Christ, and immersion in the community that bears his name — are we willing to let the Gospel truly transform us from the inside out?

Are we willing to give everything to God’s call to become a people of love and mercy and forgiveness?

Are we willing to embrace the heroic sanctity and virtue of the saints?

Are we willing to pray, and meditate, and contemplate, with the zeal of the mystics?

Someday the church in America might only be a fraction of the size it once was. But if we trade “safety in numbers” for a willingness to truly embody God’s call to live transfigured lives, frankly I think there will be no limit to the amazing miracles the Holy Spirit could work through us. And when that kicks in, no one will care if America is a “Christian nation” or not — because America will be a nation set on fire by the love of its Christians.

And that’s what will matter.

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