At some point in the ongoing argument about whether or not America is a Christian nation, both sides run out of quotes. When that happens, the Christian Nation side frequently retreats to vagueness and begins talking about how America was founded on “Christian principles.”
Which Christian principles are these? I’ve read through the Gospels a time or two, but I missed the part where Jesus sermonizes on the virtues of mixed government and republican virtue. I’ve never seen a section of Paul’s letters where he instructs on the meaning of the social contract.
Given that both men were apparently apocalyptic, it would be very surprising if either of them had much to say about government. God was about to take over that role in the new Kingdom of Heaven, so what’s the point?
Perhaps you can take a passage and expand on its meaning until you have something approaching one of America’s founding principles. Perhaps you could argue that “render unto Cesar” is really a call for federalism. But really, this doesn’t pass the laugh test. There’s no way to get from a snippet of scripture to a fully developed political concept.
It’s worth noting that at the time of America’s independence, most confessionally Christian nations were monarchies. “Christian principles” still included the old hierarchies of the medieval period. Things were getting more complicated – see England and its strengthening Parliament – but the basic idea of the monarch as God’s lieutenant on earth was still in force.
What, the slavery, racism, anti-catholic sentiments, anti-Indian violence, oppression of women and minorities and general intrusiveness of government? If you want to claim all that for Christian morality, go right ahead.
What makes this particularly comical is how it compares to Jefferson’s rather wonky view of “saxon liberty.” Jefferson always held to the romantic notion that the roots of British liberty lay in the Anglo-Saxon tribes. This meant that, to Jefferson, America’s idea of freedom actually predated Britian’s conversion to Christianity (perhaps it even predated the existence of Christianity. I’m a little vague on Jefferson’s dating.)
This idea was not taken seriously, then or now. It’s also a rather racist idea. But it’s a good example of how at least the father of the Declaration of Independence saw America’s founding as separate from Christian principles.