Is America a Christian Nation?
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 10 August 2007; revised 27 May 2019
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of the entire Bible and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
In the twentieth century many Americans grew up being taught that America is a Christian nation. Peter Marshall published a well-known book called The Light and the Glory (1977) to prove that America was founded as a Christian nation. A famous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1892 called America a Christian nation (Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, 143 U.S. 457). However, since an adjective attributes a certain quality or characteristic to the noun it modifies, then it is very important to define the term "Christian." And, as an adjective the quality must so pervade the noun in such a substantive quantity as to not be diminished by any incidental exception.
Apostolic Use. The name "Christian" first appeared in the Besekh where it occurs only three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28 and 1Pet 4:16). The term, probably coined by the apostles Barnabas and Paul, identified those who had believed in Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel, chose to follow Him as their Lord and manifested fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit. See my web article The First Christians. Outside of the Besekh the label "Christian" does not appear consistently as a self-designation until the publication of the Didache, Chap. XII (c. 100).
Catholic Church Membership. The Church Fathers, beginning in the second century, redefined the nature of being a follower of the Messiah, or Christ. The church fathers used "Christian" for self-identification as part of the Church's efforts to totally separate itself from Judaism and expunge the Jewish roots of the Christian faith (e.g., Ignatius, The Epistle to the Magnesians, X). By the fourth century "Christian" meant someone who had been baptized into the Church according to the Church's ritual and who submitted to the Church's authority. Once the Church became the official state religion citizens were gradually coerced into conversion and submission to the Church. Those who resisted the church's edicts risked the loss of their civil rights, including their lives.
So, millions made the prudent choice and the term "Christian" ceased to have any meaning of someone who has a personal relationship with Yeshua and is Spirit-filled. Jews who trusted in Yeshua as Messiah and Savior still called themselves "Nazarenes" as in the early church, but because they practiced circumcision the Catholic Church refused to consider them part of the Body of Christ (Augustine, Anti-Donatist Writings, Book VII. §1). This definition of "Christian" becomes problematic since the founders of the American colonies and the framers of the Constitution were not Catholic. In addition, the Vatican has never recognized any non-Catholic as being truly Christian and the majority of Americans today are not Catholic, nor members of any church.
Christian Theocracy. Before the Protestant Reformation the Church essentially ruled the State. The Church was viewed as the Kingdom of God on earth and the Pope was Yeshua's regent to rule the earth. Even though the Protestant Reformation changed the politics in some countries the Vatican has never surrendered its perceived right to rule the world. In any country dominated by Catholics the Pope still exercises considerable authority over the masses and the government. There have been Protestant attempts to exercise the same power, most notably the Calvinists in Holland and Geneva, Switzerland, but those efforts eventually failed and the Calvinist churches lost their power over the State.
King Henry VIII turned the tables on the Vatican and the Protestants by assuming the headship of the Church in England. When the Pilgrims and Puritans fled to the colonies it was to escape theocracy, yet like the Calvinists in Holland and Switzerland they established communities that were to be ruled by religious values. Nevertheless, when the American Revolution freed colonial America from England the signers of the Declaration of Independence and framers of the Constitution deliberately set about to organize a government that would not be ruled by a Church nor function as the head of a Church. Using the definition of a theocracy, America is not nor ever has been a Christian nation.
Ethnic Christian. "Christian" is often coupled with "Jews" as if the two terms are similar in application. However, Jews are Jews by bloodline and can trace their lineage back to the twelve sons of Jacob, whereas the term "Christian" has no ethnic application. By this definition America is not, nor ever has been, a Christian nation.
Cultural Christian. The concept of culture refers to unique customs, values and distinctive ways of living characteristic of a particular group of people. Yet, people from many nations and cultural backgrounds make profession of being Christian, so the term itself cannot have a uniquely cultural meaning. In addition, since the Protestant Reformation, believers in Yeshua have separated themselves into many groups that cannot agree on doctrine and rules. Each one of these groups could claim to be "Christian" and thus automatically exclude all other groups that did not agree or conform to the same rules. Consequently, using the cultural definition would exclude America as a Christian nation.
Christian Profession. Since the religious preference of Americans does not equal those listed in church membership records, then survey respondents must be using a very indefinite definition. They may have been reared in a "Christian" home or they see themselves as good, law-abiding citizens. Yet, half of all marriages end in divorce, and adultery and abortion are just as prevalent among "religious" families as atheist families. The actual behavior of many, if not most, of those who profess to be Christian is contrary to the standards of the Bible.
America's Founding Fathers
Although much has been written about the godly Christian leaders in early America, few perhaps know that 50 of the 54 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons or Rosicrucians (Day 56). The Rosicrucian Fellowship was a secret society with an eclectic theological system which mixed pagan mythology with Judaism and Christianity with traces of Hinduism and Buddhism, the ultimate in religious syncretism. The Freemasons originated from the Rosicrucians. A cynic might theorize that the American Revolution was actually a conspiracy of Freemasons to assure their own independence from the British crown.
In fact, it was the dominance of the Freemasons that brought about the adoption of occultic seals and symbols on American currency, documents and buildings. In addition to the Declaration signers, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were Freemasons and masters of their lodges. Benjamin Franklin was Grand Master of the first lodge in Pennsylvania (Mackey 5:1398). George Washington was Master of his lodge when he became the first President (Cavendish 7:954f). The principal framer of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, Rosicrucian and master astrologer — not a Christian. The deist believed in a god that created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation. There is not an ounce of biblical theology in the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson betrays his philosophy by referring to "Nature's God."
The fact that the foundational documents of colonial America use the term "God" does not define what god they were talking about and the reference to the date as A.D., "in year of our Lord," was the common way of referring to dates, a legacy of the Pope. Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution invokes the name of our Lord Yeshua by name. These few words do not make the founding documents Christian. Indeed, one could say with some justification that the opening statement of the Declaration of Independence is the spirit of anti-messiah, because it elevates man's desire over submission to Yeshua and God's commandments. Both Paul and Peter instructed disciples to honor the king and this was said in the days when the king exercised totalitarian rule and was far more ruthless and corrupt than the King of England of the 18th century.
The Freemasons were not constrained with any belief to obey Scripture and thus became the ideal organizers of the Revolution. The Calvinists aided and abetted the Revolution based on their skewed theology that if the King wasn't fulfilling his God-ordained duty then the people had the right to remove him, because the State should be subject to the Church as all other citizens.
Lack of Biblical Justice
The character of being a disciple of Yeshua is found in keeping God's commandments as expressed in the Bible. Many seem to think American laws, the U.S. Constitution and American jurisprudence are based on the Bible in general and the Ten Commandments in particular. American leaders since the country's founding have made similar claims. But, to be fair we really need to evaluate the truthfulness of this belief. Consider how the following subjects are treated in the Bible (Hebrew Scriptures and apostolic writings) and how they are treated in American law and court decisions. This list is not exhaustive. See my article Biblical Justice.
Subjects: morality, bankruptcy, capital punishment, care of the aged, definition of marriage, divorce, employer rights, freedom of commerce, immigration, inheritance, justice for the poor, lawsuits between believers, private property rights, punishments for crimes, punitive damage awards, responsibility of individuals vs. corporations, responsibility of and restrictions on government, right to privacy, Sabbath observance, slavery, status of animals, status of other religions, stewardship of the environment, taxation, tort liability, use of prisons, and worker rights.
When a subject-by-subject comparison is conducted one can only conclude that any resemblance between American law and the moral and justice standards of the Bible is purely coincidental. It is true that Christianity as a religion had a significant influence on early American culture and well into the 20th century. In many parts of the country Christians brought life, love, and compassion. Christians built universities, hospitals, and orphanages, brought food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, work to the destitute, and hope to the hopeless. In large measure Christianity was a conserving force for morality in American culture and an influence for justice in American government.
However, the fact that America tolerated slavery for profit and founding fathers even owned slaves indicates how far from Scripture they lived. Indeed, we had to fight a civil war to rid America of this obscenity, and the Bible belt for decades tolerated the Ku Klux Klan and elected its leaders to public office. American jurisprudence has not lived up to the name of "Christian" either (assuming a biblical definition). While decrees of colonial judges often cited Scripture, after the American Revolution this practice fell away. Indeed, those who claim that God is the basis for our law and government only need to produce the executive orders, legislative acts and judicial rulings that quote Scripture or include biblical principles as rationale for those decisions. The result of such a search would be very disappointing.
After careful consideration of American history, Scripture and the meaning of words, I can only conclude that the United States of America has never been a truly Christian nation. Indeed today there is ample proof that the commandments of God do not guide the ethics and morality of the majority of America's families, leaders, legislatures and courts. Indeed the U.S. Supreme Court has redefined marriage away from its historic and biblical meaning and one political party has chosen to sanction infanticide. The American entertainment industry regularly portrays ungodly behavior as normal and acceptable. Christians need to remember that we await a King from Heaven. Judgment will fall on the wicked with eternal loss. When Yeshua rules on the earth his charter will not be based on man's values, but the commandments he gave to Moses (Isaiah 42:4; Micah 4:2; Luke 16:17), and his capital will not be in Washington, D.C., but in Jerusalem.
Cavendish: Richard Cavendish, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown, 24 vols. Marshall Cavendish Corp, 1983.
Day: Harvey Day, Occult Illustrated Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1976.
Mackey: Albert G. Mackey (1807-1881), History of Freemasonry (1873). 5 Vols. Random House Pub., 1996.
Marshall: Peter Marshall, The Light and the Glory. Revell Pub., 1977, 2009.
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