Wheaton’s Inhabit Conference: Race and the Christian Nation Question

I am hearing good things about the Inhabit conference held at Wheaton College this past weekend. I had wanted to attend but couldn’t due to a previous commitment. One topic of discussion at the conference was the problem of the Christian nation concept.

John Fea notes that the Christian nation theory is offensive to many African-American evangelicals. Here is a taste:

On Friday evening I was inspired by the Wheaton Gospel Choir and messages by Pastor Ray, Chris Beard of Peoples Church in Cincinnati, and Bryan Loritts, the pastor of a multiracial church in Memphis.  (Loritts is a big Jonathan Edwards fan and was very excited to meet Marsden.  He had just finished Marsden’s biography of Edwards and was now reading some of Noll’s work). The evangelical African-American community is deeply offended by the notion, made popular by Christian nationalists such as David Barton, that the United States needs to somehow “return” or “go back” to its so-called Christian roots.  They view America’s founding as anything but Christian.  Many of the founding fathers owned slaves.  When the founders had the chance to choose the nation over the end of slavery (1776 and 1787) they always chose the former.  Slavery is embedded in the Constitution. Indeed, the entire debate over whether the United States is a Christian nation is a white Protestant evangelical issue.  One would be hard pressed to find an African-American evangelical who wants to return to what Christian Nationalists often describe as the golden age of American Christianity.

Rev. Beard’s experience as a minister in Cincinnati illustrates Fea’s observations:

Beard’s Peoples Church seems to have made the most striking reversal on the Christian America question.  As a member of the Assembly of God denomination, Beard taught his congregation that the founders were Christians, that America was a Christian Nation, and that patriotism was almost inseparable from the Kingdom of God.  He even had David Barton speak at his church.  But after reading folks like Noll and Marsden, and looking more closely at the historical record, Beard changed his mind.  He made a deliberate attempt to reject Christian nationalist teaching, build an international and multiracial congregation, and subordinate his patriotism to the Kingdom of God.  He lost a lot of his church in the process, but he has rebuilt it into an even stronger congregation.

Beard’s views certainly motivated his opposition to The Jefferson Lies when it came out, as well as to the recent surge of interest in the Institute on the Constitution and League of the South.

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