Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: America a Christian Nation?

Religion writer Ruth Ann Dailey penned a thought provoking op-ed examining the  notion of America as a Christian nation for today’s Post-Gazette. She mentions one of my heroes, Roger Williams, and then refers to my work debunking David Barton’s claims about the Founders.

Roger Williams was not mentioned as much by the Founders as John Locke but Williams preceded Locke in time. I especially like this Williams quote which Dailey worked into her piece:

Their persecution drove the great theologian and linguist Roger Williams to flee the Massachusetts Bay Colony and establish Providence Plantations — now Rhode Island — where, as he envisioned it, “the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish [Muslim] or antichristian consciences and worships” could live together in liberty.

Williams’ story is well worth examining for anyone, but is especially instructive for Baptists of today who seem to have more in common with the Congregationalists of the Colonial period than the Baptists Williams, Leland and Backus of earlier times.

  • M. Worrell

    I think it’s a fairly narrow band of people who actually think the Founders were Christian in the Evangelical sense. Or who care. I went to the initial screening of “Monumental” with some conservative Christian friends, and frankly it was met with a good deal of skepticism and caution as we discussed it afterwards.

    When most conservative Christians say that America was a “Christian Nation”, I think they largely mean that Judeo-Christian morals were in many ways normative among Christians and non-Christians alike, and consequently an individual seeking to live a decidedly Christian existence would find America and its prevailing cultural atmosphere to be an agreeable place to do so. Half of the country and much of the culture is now hostile to that aim, and it’s unpleasant.

    I also think this is all that most Christians are looking for when they say they want to “restore America”, etc. The easy acceptance of the Mormon Glenn Beck and the Jewish Dennis Prager and Michael Medved among conservative Evangelicals is, I think, and indication that faithfulness to particular doctrines of the Christian faith is not the issue at all.

    The culture drowning in filth. Was it always? Probably. So what? Why accept it?

    I have irreligious Mother Jones-reading leftist friends who share many of my objections about the current condition of the cultural air we all breathe. That’s the common ground we need to get to.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    M. From where I sit, the band isn’t so narrow. I wish it was. The GOP’s primary season has been dominated by the band you hope is narrow which all of a sudden makes me think that the band is either not narrow or that the GOP has been taken over by them. Either way, the damage is real. The GOP scared away moderate candidates and nearly undid Romney, who is not Gingrich or Santorum, but other than that I am not sure what i can say for him.

    On a more personal note, the hate mail I get doesn’t come from the left anymore, even though I am more of a moderate than anything else. I hope you are right, but I am not clear on what I would do differently if you are.

  • Carol Ranney

    I have to agree with Warren that a lot of the right wing goes way too far in how they portray America’s past and envision its future. I noticed this years ago (1980s) when I was home schooling my son with a Christian curriculum and I realized how they had altered and whitewashed American history, making the founders out to be fundamental believers, and whisking past Black American, Native American, Chinese and other ethnic contributions and abuses and current inequities. I thought in a Christian curriculum, I would have found honesty in the writing and clarity as to our responsibilities as believers in the face of such inequities–however I found none of that, but dishonest history and casual acceptance of our advantages built on the lands and the lives of those who to this day still suffer. To make this a TRULY Christian nation–we need to be writing and teaching honest history according to the facts as they happened, and as believers, paying attention to our biblical responsibility to be building God’s kingdom in this country, and how that plays out in what the effects of our laws and the apportionment of our lands and funds have on particularly the African American and Native American populations. Their welfare is a good marker of how truly “Christian/Christ-like” our country actually is. Instead, we’re told by the religious right that this great nation was given to us by God–no explanation that it belonged to other peoples with whom we subsequently broke endless treaties until we had taken all we wanted and left them with arid, barren and unproductive patches of land where they suffer and starve, escape into alcoholism, lose the last remnants of their languages and culture…I can guarantee that was NOT God’s plan, and those who claim it was should be ashamed.

  • Patrocles

    America was once a nation where even the most fundamentalist and rigid sects of Christianity could make a home for themselves – and thus feel at home. In that times the United States were pluralist, but the rise of “big government” means inevitably de-pluralization. The liberal state of today is in no way a state where “the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish [Muslim] or antichristian consciences and worships” can live together in real liberty – namely as autonomous, self-administrated communities, determining by their own conscience what is sin and what is just.

  • Richard Willmer

    The highly interconnected nature of modern society means that there has to some kind of ‘social contract’ undergirding that society. The issue is to what extent that ‘social contract’ (a.k.a. ‘culture’) should be ‘beholden’ to be particular religion or world view?

    There is no doubt in my mind that many ‘Christian principles’ have a very important part to play in the on-going formation and development of that ‘social contract’. My main gripe with ‘the most fundamentalist and rigid sects of (alleged) Christianity’ is that they have in many ways departed from (what I understand to be) ‘Christian principles’. This is, in my view, an inevitable consequence of the (almost-)deification of the Bible, and all the profound and dangerous theological, philosophical and moral distortions that this causes.

  • Patrocles

    Yes, but as far as I see – Dr. Throckmorton may correct me -, Roger Williams made a difference between his private opinion and his constitutional principles. Privately he almost certainly judged groups along the line how far they departed from “Christian principles”. In constitutional matters he wanted that all groups are treated equally.

    The bigger government gets, the bigger government gets influence on culture, the more inevitable are culture wars (as wars about who controls government). We have to understand that it’s a structural problem; it’s not (only) the guilt of those bad Christian Rightists.

  • Richard Willmer

    From what I can see, Roger Williams seems to understand what is perhaps the core principle of democracy under the rule of law. His ‘rebellious’ streak (the good old ‘two fingers’ at the notion of a state church) warms the cockles of this particular heart! Despite his puritan leanings, the (English) Oxford Movement ‘ritualists’ who, around two centuries after Williams’ passing, founded the church which I attend would, I suspect, have agreed with much of his (Williams’) thesis on the nature of relationship between Church and State. They too were persecuted (by both Church and State) on account of their position in this regard.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X