A Nation of Christians vs. A Christian Nation

AM Christian Nation

I returned home from a trip to Saudi Arabia last week.

When I landed in New York, I was greeted by a stern-faced U.S. Customs agent grilling me about my travels. Next, a perfect stranger in airport security felt me up so thoroughly that I must now confess a sin of adultery to a Catholic priest. Then, I paid $17 for lunch in the airport food court, where every outlet serves a menu of soggy cardboard warmed beneath the tender glow of four giant heat lamps.

And I loved everything about it. Home sweet home.

After my meal and subsequent indigestion, I sat in the lounge waiting for my final hop back to Nashville, soaking in all of the familiar sights and sounds. College hoodies. Southern accents. Bluetooth headsets. I overheard a couple talking in the row behind me, grateful to be around a familiar language once again. As I listened, I imagined their names were Harold and Mabel. The TV news was running a story about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, with justifiably angry talking heads decrying extremism and cautioning against racism.

“What is this world coming to?” Mabel asked.

“Nothing good, that’s for sure.” Harold quipped.

I glanced back at the screen above me, enjoying their banter. A little while later, the news ran a story about Miley Cyrus, the all-too-familiar celebrity. Apparently she thought it would be a good idea to release a bunch of nude photos. But Billy Ray’s heart wasn’t the only one that was achy-breaking.

“And look at that?” scoffed Harold. “Can you believe it?”

“Good Lord.” Mabel replied. “I can’t believe we allow this kind of thing in a CHRISTIAN NATION.”

Yes.

A CHRISTIAN NATION.

We’ve heard it so many times that the words just seem to go together. Like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Bert and Ernie. But in that moment I was struck by a harsh realization.

It’s simply not true.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am about to say. I am a Christian. Big fan of Jesus! I try and fail every day to be more like Him. And I’m not just talking about the carpentry part. Whether the task is trimming out cabinets or extending grace to others, I have a devil of a time getting it right. Still, it is a goal of mine to become more Christ-like in word and deed.

Because of this, you might think I would be on the bandwagon, lamenting the fact that we’re looking less and less like a CHRISTIAN NATION every day. Especially so fresh from a trip to a Muslim country where openly sharing my faith is punishable by death.

But I am not lamenting. The truth is, the United States is NOT a CHRISTIAN NATION. And, as Christians, there are three big reasons why we need to get this crazy notion out of our heads.

First, when we say we are a CHRISTIAN NATION, we look like imbeciles to anyone who has read a grade school history book. The founders of our nation, most of them Christians, drafted the First Amendment (and Article 6 of the Constitution) to guard against state-sponsored religion. They had lived through true persecution, and understood how faith in the hands of government can easily stray from its original intent.

Second, saying we are a CHRISTIAN NATION provides an easy way for a people of faith to shirk responsibility. While I do believe governments have an obligation to assure citizens are afforded equal rights under the law, and government systems should not encourage marginalization, that does not mean Christ-followers can leave this work to elected officials. It is up to each of us to reach out to the “least of these” and take the humble stance of a servant. Every. Day.

The third reason gets to the heart of why Christ himself did not want to be “of this world.” Jesus had seen what happens to religion in the hands of politicians like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In fact, he saved some of his harshest words for these folks, calling them “snakes” (Matt. 23:33) and “manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh.” (Matt. 23: 27 MSG)

Stop sugar-coating it, Jesus. Tell us how you really feel!

Jesus knew we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we shouldn’t want to be Caesar.

Bottom line: there is a big difference between being a CHRISTIAN NATION and being a NATION OF CHRISTIANS.

A CHRISTIAN NATION claims persecution when others don’t allow official prayers, or prohibit the use public space and funds to display the Ten Commandments or a government-sanctioned Nativity scene.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS recognizes that although the vast majority of the population is of the same faith, there is an ocean of difference between sharing that faith and imposing your beliefs on others. You just can’t legislate devotion.

***

A CHRISTIAN NATION fears Sharia Law and all things Islam, labeling Muslims as terrorists or extremists, even though the majority of terror acts are committed by non-Muslims.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS looks for places to be the healing hands of Christ in the midst of extremism, while constantly reflecting upon their own behavior to see if it, too, could be classified as extremely far afield from the loving example of Christ.

***

A CHRISTIAN NATION takes a protective stance, concerned about securing its borders to keep out the alien and those who don’t belong.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS takes a welcoming stance, concerned about loving their neighbors as themselves. There is simply no greater commandment.

***

A CHRISTIAN NATION legislates love, making rules that govern who can and cannot commit their lives to one another, treating the marginalized as unequal in the eyes of the law.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS sees everyone as equal in the eyes of the Lord, wonderfully and beautifully made in the image and likeness of God.

***

A CHRISTIAN NATION demands commitment and effort, and those who aren’t willing or able to give that effort are less than worthy, placed outside the circle of the deserving.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS live by the mantra of Christ that those who sue you for your tunic should be given your cloak as well. Those who ask for a mile shall be given two. And those who beg and borrow shall not be refused.

Perhaps all of this is best captured in the words of the Apostle Paul, who was once a zealous Pharisee himself.

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing  by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil. 2: 1-8 NIV)

In the end, turning the United States into a CHRISTIAN NATION might ensure that “Christian values” are more consistently displayed on television screens and “Christian principles” are more practiced in schools and assembly halls. But that simply isn’t the answer. Because a NATION OF CHRISTIANS, made up of individuals striving to be Christ-like, understands that no one comes to the faith by force. Instead, people must be drawn to the faith of their own free will. Like a magnet to metal. And in this pursuit let us all be as strong as steel, praying this prayer together.

May our joy in despair be contagious.
May our humility in service be infectious.
May our generosity in poverty be irresistible.
And may our love and grace be offered without condition
to a nation of souls who need it so desperately.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “A Nation of Christians vs. A Christian Nation

  1. SPOT. ON. Sharing with everyone I know today. Thank you, Scott.

  2. Donna Williamson

    i wish i had something witty or eloquent to say, but all I can say is i appreciate what you have said here, I agree with you, and you have a wonderful way with words. Thanks for your work.

  3. Susan

    And the people said, “Amen.”

  4. Linda Hendricks

    I can only echo your Amens! Instead of putting Christ back into Christmas, as was the popular call this past holiday season. We might try putting Christ back into Christians!

  5. Nancy Martin

    Oh thank you for speaking up and saying what I was thinking! Thank you!! Keep sharing and posting and speaking up! We need your voice!

  6. Thank you for pointing out the differences. I wish there were more Christians who took Jesus’ words and actions as an example rather than feeling that everyone has to have the same belief system if you want to be considered a worthwhile human being.

  7. You know Jesus wept over Jerusalem knowing they would try to overthrow the Romans and be a nation of Christians, so to speak. And the end result would be desolation. We cannot legislate faith and make everyone better people like we want them to be. We have to be like Christ wants US to be and the result will take care of itself.

  8. Reblogged this on My Freedom Wall and commented:
    Bottom line: there is a big difference between being a CHRISTIAN NATION and being a NATION OF CHRISTIANS.

  9. brian

    I love what this author says however. I would argue that we are a NATION OF MANY RELIGIONS. A nation where ALL RELIGIOUS BELIEFS ARE REGARDED EQUALLY. Many of us. My family included, owe our existance to a lineage including more than just one religion. We also have the freedom to choose to follow NO RELIGION. To be good moral decent humans. To treat all with love and respect without following a “god”. I have had the good fortune to meet and get to know many people from many religions and have found that they all share the same core values. They give them different names, envision their god(s) with different appearances and names. Worship in different manners. But when you strip it all down the core values remain so similar there is no reason for one to consider their religion to be better or more true than another. Honestly if there is an all powerful ” god(s)” that all people all religions are worshipping the same one(s) just under different names. I would say its time we as Americans accept that we are a nation of many religions COEXISTING for the betterment of ALL mankind.

  10. Love is the answer, we’re a Nation of Jews, Native Religions, Atheists, Buddhists, Janis’s, Taoist’s, Wiccan’s, Agnostics, Parsi’s, Muslims, Hindu’s, many kinds of Christian’s and so much more … Practice Loving your neighbors and enemies as yourself (and be sure to Love yourself first …!) Amen …

    • Dale

      I absolutely agree. Of course there are people with problems that have challenges in how they behave around other people. There are those who play Christianity and do not know the Savior as their best friend, Savior, and Lord. They have a form of godliness but are self consumed. TRUE CHRISTIANS are not perfect and do sin but not out of desire but just got off balance or have not got victory yet in an area of their lives……… HOWEVER, flaws and all Christians are the best people on earth and more importantly they are now children of God through Christ Jesus. No Christian can do evil without great regret because the Holy Spirit is in them. That regret should drive them to God for forgiveness and encourage them to let God be God and forgive others as God forgives them.

      With Islam the motivating factors are fear and too often hate. Jesus condemned hating people but endorsed hating evil and sin. Jesus replaces fear with faith/trust in God and overcoming love that refuses to stay in either fear or hate. Praise God! When the scriptures talk about fearing God it means – awe and respect not dread and terror. When Jesus said hate your mother and father compared with God it was an idiom, a contrast between our love for God and love for others. The fact is that is is God’s love for us that gives us the ability and motivation to love others as God loves us. I LOVE my parents who are with the Lord now but if I contrast them to God then God comes first in the line for love. Jesus also pointed out that we show our love for God by our love for our fellow man/person. The best we have to offer in love pales to the love God has for ALL of us, even the biggest sinner. We in Jesus are free to love God first and extend His love as a cup running over to pour out on others. What love does Islam or any other man made religion have in contrast to TRUE Christianity and true Christians? Very little – why? Perfect love, God’s love CASTS OUT ALL FEAR and floods you with God’s presence, joy, and peace that passes all understanding. THAT LOVE, God’s, blows away any selfish, egocentric love or terrorizing fear. Praise God!

  11. I enjoyed reading your blog. I recently wrote a blog called Death of the American Church. I might have been a little more harsh in mine. I believe it is time that we stood up for what we believe!

  12. I was okay with most of this until I ran into the comment that most terrorists are not Muslim. I followed that link, and that article (of dubious veracity) spent ink on terrorist acts that happened in other nations. Since before 9/11, most terrorist acts against American targets have been conducted by those who call themselves Muslim. I guess we could argue semantics to some degree, but when that same articles refers to abortion clinics (centers dedicated to killing unborn children, i.e., the least among us) as “reproductive health-care facilities”, I realized that the author is skilled at twisting words and labeling acts and people to suit his purpose.

    I agree with the disparity between Christian nation and nation of Christians, that rings very true. The problem is, the heavy slant of the supporting claims almost negates the value of the article’s title.

  13. I have found your style entertaining in the past, and I appreciated your humorous point of view, but I am increasingly disappointed in the positions you are taking with regard to current issues facing us as Christians in this nation. In this post, for example you say people who mischaracterize the US as a Christian nation, “look like imbeciles to anyone who has read a grade school history book.” This may be true of the history books you are familiar with, but your age l that you are a victim of the revisionist history that has expunged the real faith of our founding fathers from the pages of their accounts. I am not suggesting that the First Amendment is a farce; I am saying that it was not written in a vacuum.

    The framers of the Constitution were in a pivotal period in human history when the theism of the middle ages was being challenged by the humanism of the enlightenment. When the framers of our founding documents said the Creator endowed all men with certain unalienable rights, they were thinking of the Creator identified in the Bible. When they said that the state could not establish or restrain religious expression, they were speaking from a paradigm that imagined a society guided by the truth presented in the Bible. They saw “natural law,” as it was being called, as God’s law evident in both nature and human nature. In other words, our nation was founded on Christian principles, and I believe their writings prove the founding fathers imagined it would survive only by continuing to follow those principles.

    I have previously chided you for conflating the role of individual Christians with the proper role of government. You continue to suggest that the Christian response to illegal immigration is for believers to take, “a welcoming stance, concerned about loving their neighbors as themselves.” Fine. But that does not preclude the government from securing our borders, a stance which you seem to belittle. You seem oblivious to the fact that unrestrained immigration and the resulting drain on all available services will bankrupt this nation. If it is wrong for me to put a gun to your head to force you to pay for my needs, it is equally wrong for the government to enforce a policy of “welcoming, loving concern” for the poor and expect me to pay for it. God loves a cheerful giver, not a coerced one.

    Perhaps the most disappointing thing I found in this post is your link to the article by Dean Obeidallah, “Are All Terrorists Muslims?” His post is a disingenuous snow job, a red herring. Of course crimes are committed around the world by people other than Muslims. That does not negate the fact that radical Islam promotes terror as a principal tenet of the faith. Nor does it negate the fact that Sharia Law is a fearful system codifying human rights violations which all civilized people should oppose. You speak of “healing… in the midst of extremism,” but seem to ignore the fact that the extremists you speak of desire a world dictatorship with draconian laws enforced on pain of death, and they want to kill us to get there.

    I don’t believe we are or ever have been “a Christian nation;” on that point we can agree. Your basic idea of what it means to be a Christian in this nation is also sound: imitate Jesus. Where I find fault with your thinking is your implication that government policies which promote the rule of law, personal safety and economic stability are somehow flawed. You seem to be suggesting that government policies should reflect personal Christian behavioral principles. The only Biblical institution which should perfectly reflect Christ on earth is the church. To ask the government to reflect Christ would be to ask for a Christian nation, something which you apparently object to. Perhaps it would be helpful to reflect on Jesus’ admonition to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. The role and standards of government are not the same as those of the church or, by extension, individuals.

    • Hi there, Clair. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate you taking the time to write it. As I imagine several other folks share your point of view, I’ll post a brief response in the hopes that it’ll cover my response to their concerns as well.

      I agree with you that the founding fathers were Christians, and, no doubt they injected Christian principles into our founding documents. At the same time, they also wrote verbiage to assure that those who didn’t follow the faith were free to practice whatever religion they wished without having to follow the tenets of Christianity. Sadly, even these Christian men used “natural law” and Biblical texts as evidence to defend the right to keep slaves, only give African Americans 3/5 of a vote, and keep women from voting completely. Using scripture as law is definitely a slippery slope.

      As for the immigration question, I also agree with you in that we do need to secure our borders, as some would seek to come to our country to do us harm. I am grateful for the brave men and women who keep our borders safe, as they do a job I simply don’t have to courage to do. At the same time, most immigrants are coming here as refugees from persecution and/or poverty. And here is where I am hard-pressed to find any words from Christ that encourage me to fear the alien, protect my material wealth, and refuse to offer help to the needy. While we do need laws to keep order, we Christians make God very small if we allow our fear of a change in our standard of living to keep us from helping someone who is living in poverty. In my opinion, to blame that country’s government is to also shirk our responsibility as Christians.

      And finally, I also agree with your point that radical Muslims are responsible for some horrible acts of terror, deplorable in the eyes of God. At the same time, we must remember these are extremists, and to paint all Muslims with the same broad brush is to invite the world to use the Westboro Baptist Church as the model for Christianity. Moreover, (another opinion here) I have to take a hard look at my own bias when I expressed horror at the Charlie Hebdo attacks, yet I hardly noticed that the Boko Haram decimation of a village of 2000 Muslims was wiped out by Muslim extremists that same week – nearly the same death toll as the horrific 9/11 attacks, yet it was a blip on the news radar. Some introspection is required, I think.

      Again, thanks for reading and challenging my thinking (and allowing me to clarify some points). I wish you peace. -Scott

      • Scott,
        At the risk of beating a dead horse, may I say that I find in your response the same flaw I have been concerned about all along. You say that you find no words of Christ that encourage fear of the alien, protection of wealth or refusing help for the needy. Neither do I, but that is not the point. I disagree that our government is required to follow the words of Christ. The purpose of government is to protect citizens and provide an environment conducive to peace and prosperity. It is not and cannot be the job of government to provide for the needs of all the people on earth. Because everyone but God must exist on limited resources, it is prudent to take measures to use available resources in the most effective way. Letting all the world’s poor into our country because we are “wealthy” will soon make us as poor as they are. Then we will be of no help to anyone.

        It is the church’s responsibility to receive the alien and distribute whatever wealth is available to the needy. The church is us; therefore it is our responsibility as individual believers to follow Christ. To ask the government to do this is asking that we become a Christian nation. Isn’t that precisely what you are saying we are not?

    • Mary

      Clair – thank you for so eloquently stating my opinion.

  14. elna hoffman

    I love you! Elna Hoffman

  15. Hello Michael: I’ve just nominated your blog for the Primio Dardos award. Please visit my site to see. http://kimgosselinblog.com/

  16. Hi Scott – I just found your blog today after a friend of mine had read one of my blog posts and then recommended I look at what you have written. I had written about why secularisation is good for the church, from a New Zealand perspective (and not the evil thing I sometimes hear it is from Christians).
    I’m glad I’ve found your blog.
    Mike
    http://mikecrudge.com/2015/03/05/why-secularisation-is-good-for-the-church/

  17. Thanks for this great post. I enjoyed how you broke down there difference between a Christian nation and a nation of Christians.

    After reading and listening to famous preachers and popular Christians, I believed America had a Christian heritage. In numerous books, I read the founding fathers were Christians and they instilled the beliefs in the constitution.

    I have created an infographic in an attempt to dispel the myth of a Christian nation. I will be honored if you could look at it and share with people in your great network.

    http://gracemusing.com/2015/07/10/4-marks-of-a-christian-nation-you-need-to-know/

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