In recent times, a debate has risen as to whether America is or ever has been a Christian country. Let’s look at that question starting with two viewpoints that would claim that it wasn’t; that the foundations of America were not built on Christianity but other values. Here is the first viewpoint.
THE 1619 PROJECT
The 1619 project is an endeavor developed by Nicole Hannan-James from the New York Times, which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative”(en.wikipedia.org). It was first published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colony of Virginia.
This view brought forth “strong resistance” to the project by a number of historians that accused the project creators of putting ideology before historical understanding. These historians denied the project’s claim that slavery was essential to the beginning of the American Revolution.
Here in the 1916 project, we have the view that America was basically built on the backs of slaves going back to 1619. There is no doubt that their story is part and parcel of American history, but that does not mean it was the foundation of America’s history. We join with those historians in rejecting that claim. Now to the second viewpoint about America’s foundation. This being that America is a secular nation.
A SECULAR NATION
“If you listen long enough to organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, you will come to believe that America was founded by men with a wide diversity of religious beliefs who were united by one dream; a secular nation devoid of any religious (especially Christian) influences. The founder’s goal, we often hear, was to build an unscalable wall that would protect their country from any religious influence seeping into public life. That version of American history belongs in the same category as the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree – it is a complete myth”, so wrote Dr. Robert Jeffress in his book America is a Christian Nation.
“The attempts to change America into a totally secular country have been many, particularly in the last century. However, America was not built on a secular foundation. One of the prominent concepts in all this is the phrase “separation of church and state”(Jeffress). Let us look at that concept.
SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE
I well remember one night seeing on TV an interview by Larry King with Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, where the issue of the “separation of church and state” was brought up. Dr. Dobson pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his pocket and asked him to show us where this was in the Constitution. He couldn’t simply because it was not in the Constitution. If so, where did the idea originate?
It was first used in a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to a group of Baptists in Connecticut, written nine years after the ratification of the first amendment, with its establishment clause, “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise there of”(breakpoint.org).
Now, what was intended by that clause is hotly debated. Still, it would seem that in this new country of America, they were guarding against one Christian denomination being considered the national religion elected above any other. Compare that with England, where the church of England was the national religion and technically still is. Now let us look at the viewpoint that America is a Christian nation.
IS AMERICA A CHRISTIAN NATION?
Dr. Robert Jeffress is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. He is also an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has provided a beautiful book entitled America is a Christian Nation. It is not an in-depth study of America. Rather, it is a record of the foundations of the nation in America. In the section “Historical Evidence for Our Christian Foundation, “he points out that “fifty-one of the fifty-five who attended the Constitutional Convention were Christian”(Jeffress).
He notes that “It is true that two of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were deists, not Christians. Yet these deists did not deny the spiritual foundation of our country. For example, the two men proposed seals for the new nation that depicted Moses and the pillar of fire…
In addition, Benjamin Franklin suggested that the Constitutional Convention should ask God’s blessing in an opening prayer at every session.
During the meeting on June 28, 1787. Franklin said, ‘I have lived… a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it possible that an empire can rise without his aid. We have been assured… in the sacred writings that except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it'”(Jeffress).
Jeffress goes on to quote from these early founders, including George Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and others, as well as evidence from the courts. It is an easy read that includes basic information about our nation’s founders, and I recommend it to you.
AMERICA WAS BUILT ON A CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION
Earl Warren was a chief justice of the Supreme Court a generation ago. He was a liberal judge, but this is what he had to say. “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Saviour have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses… Whether we look to the first Charter of Virginia… or to the Charter of New England… or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay… or to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut… the same object is present: a Christian land governed by Christian principles… I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people… I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country” (Jeffress).
To sum it up, America was founded on a Christian Biblical foundation in as much as it was built on Christian values and Biblical principles. However, America is no longer being built on that foundation, so we live in what has been described as a post-Christian nation. I don’t believe you can actually say America was or is a Christian nation. More correctly, you must say that it was originally built on Christian values and Biblical principles.
I realize many people living today decry that the nation is not being built on Christian values as it was at the beginning. In some ways, we are similar to the Old Testament story of Israel, who went through similar cycles. So there is always the hope that America will experience a move of the Spirit and turn back to God in the spirit of 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV), “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
So let us pray for that to happen. God bless America.
Jeffress, R. (2022). America is a Christian Nation. Pathway to Victory.