Contrary to what many people would like to believe, America is not a Christian nation, and I, for one, am very glad of that. So are, I imagine, millions of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans and Atheists. The Founding Fathers, still vibrating with the musket fire of the American Revolution, were not far removed from what it was like living under the tyranny of Great Britain which had its own state religion. It was, in fact, that religion from which the first settlers were fleeing.
While Baptists tend to be the most vocal today about America being a “Christian nation,” it was a Baptist minister, John Leland, who declared that our country should be free from religious imposition by the government:
The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” – A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia.
Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.” – Right of Conscience Inalienable.
A careful examination of our Founding Fathers shows that few of them were “Christians” in the sense that we view Christianity. Their faith was not one of living and serving in relationship with God; their faith saw God as removed from human affairs unless things were broken. This is the core of Deism. While the Judeo-Christian texts informed their thinking, the philosophies of the Enlightenment period held equal sway over them.
The choice of following God is just that – a choice. This choice is biblical. We see in Joshua where Joshua challenged the Israelites to choose whether or not they would follow God: “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24: 13). In the New Testament, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus does not require people to follow him; he gives them the choice. “If you want to follow me, then you must live a life of daily sacrifice.” Jesus at least tells us what the consequences of our choice will be.
Throughout the founding of the nation of Israel, God says in many instances, “If you follow me and keep my commandments, then I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Again, the use of “if” indicates that this is a choice with consequences. The Israelites don’t have to keep God’s commandments, but they will suffer significant consequences if they do not. And they failed to keep all of God’s commands; “Thou shalt have no other gods besides me” seemed to trip them up quite a bit.
That’s where I see America messing up as a nation. It’s not that God has left us. In fact, just the opposite. It didn’t start with making it unlawful to force students to pray in school. It started when we began to worship idols – gods of our own making. We began to worship the gods of political figures and ideals, the gods of professional sports, the gods of entertainment, and the gods of money and prosperity. We adore these, chase these, give them the same awe and reverence we used to give to YHWH God. Even our churches are places where we follow preachers more than God and spend more time in conflicts surrounding ideology and theology more than in sincere acts of worship.
God has not left us, though, any more than God left the Israelites. Though they worshiped other gods and merely went through the motions of worship, God was still present with them. During the years of exile, the Israelites yearned for Jerusalem, because that is where the Temple was where they believed God lived. Yet, God assured them through Jeremiah that God was still there with them, even as they were exiled in Babylon. The Israelites simply had to get back to acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with their God (Micah 6:8).
God is still with our nation, just as God is with every other nation on this earth, even those who have state religions different from Christianity, and even those ruled by regimes which are hostile to those who fear God. We just simply need to get back to what’s important – loving people as God loves them and worshiping God with our whole hearts.