Ethics Institutions Politics

If the US is a Christian nation, whose Christianity do we follow? (COMMENTARY)

The People's Church in South Bend, Ind.
The People's Church in South Bend, Ind.

Photo courtesy of American Spirit via Shutterstock

The People’s Church in South Bend, Ind.

(RNS) A recent survey found that 57 percent of Republicans agreed that Christianity should be established as the United States’ national religion.

Not only would this violate the clear wording of the Constitution and the intention of the founders to keep religion and government separate, it also raises a difficult quandary.

Whose Christianity?

Of the estimated 1,500-plus Christian denominations in the U.S., which flavor of Christianity would emerge as the national standard?

Would it be conservative Christianity or liberal Christianity? Would it be Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or nondenominational? Would it be church-centered Christianity or a more personal flavor, such as house communion? Would it be the 1950s-style neighborhood-church Christianity that many older churchgoers yearn for, or a contemporary megachurch?

This could go on and on. Immersion baptism or sprinkling? Adult baptism or infant baptism? Eucharist-centered or preaching-centered? Biblical literalist or progressive? Male leaders, female leaders or both? Gay-friendly or gay-loathing?

We could do this all day. For Christians are brilliant at splitting hairs, and absolutely determined to be absolutely right. That’s a principal reason America’s founders were determined to keep religion on its own page. They came from Europe, after all, where Christians slaughtered other Christians over power and right opinion.

We could broaden the GOP’s goal to focus on all three Abrahamic faiths. But then we would face similar splintering within Judaism and within Islam. And embracing Abraham would confound the goal of making Jews and Muslims feel unwelcome.

The GOP’s goal, of course, isn’t to deepen people’s faith or commitment to mission and ministry. It certainly isn’t to bring about something as radical as the Sermon on the Mount, or Jesus’ rebuke of rich people, or his refusal to judge, or his promise of new life, or his opening God’s kingdom to outcasts. Its goal is to enshrine a narrow version of a moral code as “good religious law,” while Islam’s Shariah would be outlawed as “bad religious law.”

Some in the Republican Party want official approval to oppress and marginalize nonconformists, dissenters and freethinkers — in other words, the very kind of people who founded the United States.

In time, the outlawing probably would run amok. Outlaw gays, outlaw Muslims, outlaw abortion, outlaw women in leadership, outlaw any public acts of intimacy that weren’t featured in movies starring Doris Day, outlaw science and its inconvenient truths, outlaw history based on facts like slavery and white racism.

The United States has survived this long because church and state were kept separate. That was by design. As the rising tide of religion-based intolerance and vitriol shows, it was a wise design.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

We are safe from religion — which was the founders’ goal — when all religious voices can be heard. A competition of ideas is healthy. But if one religious voice became dominant, the resulting intolerance would take us back to the religious wars that tore Europe to pieces. We would see why our ancestors came to the New World. Not to get rich or to establish free-market capitalism, but to free themselves from religious oppression.

Christians can do amazing things to help society be healthy. But when we get in charge, we become demonic. The U.S. has never been a “Christian nation,” and we shouldn’t want it to become one.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

YS/MG END EHRICH

About the author

Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com.

31 Comments

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  • This is why it’s so important to know what the Bible/Word of God says
    because we have so many false religions such as the mormons and all
    of the Jehovah witnesses who say that Jesus was created/not God and
    say there is no literal burning hell or only very few go to outer darkness
    when the Bible says that most go to hell and only very few go to heaven.
    Jesus is God as part of the Godhead which is God the Father and also
    God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Godhead is in the Bible a few times.
    Bible is clear Jesus is the only way to heaven so people who say all roads
    are same don’t make sense cause each belief teaches something different.

  • Many also try to say that Jesus was just a prophet but no true prophet can
    be revered if they are a liar so if Jesus wasn’t the Son of God He was a liar
    and can’t be revered or a true prophet so either Jesus was a liar of He was
    the Messiah/only way to heaven! Jesus is the only way! If there were other
    ways why would He go to the Cross if there were other other ways? It does
    not make sense to say that all roads are the same/there are other ways to
    heaven! God/Jesus came down for/to us. Emmanuel means God with us so
    Jesus was/is God with us as part of the Trinity/Godhead. Jesus is the only way! Bible says man shall perish because of their lack of knowledge so we
    need to know what the Bible says so we can know who teaches false things.

  • bro(t)her! if you tell us THAT (you love G-D)
    then show us THAT
    p.s.
    ‘tell and show’
    p.p.s.
    bro(t)her! if you tell us THAT (you love G-D)
    then show us THAT
    1) by(e) you keeping HIS Commandments (behave!)
    2) by(e) you righting wrongs (act!)

  • G-D’S Two Part Plan for man (nunc)
    part I stop sinning (behave!)(stop being a dumb-he!)
    part II start saving (act!)(start being a smart-he!)
    G-D’S Two Part Plan for man (tunc)
    part I cease to do evil
    part II learn to do well
    p.s.
    ho ho ho
    p.p.s.
    bro(t)her! G-D knows who’s naughty and who’s nice

  • Karla- Christians follow Jesus, Jesus had a very different approach when it came to interacting with human beings. The first thing that Jesus said to the Samaritan women was asking her for water and in turn offering her ‘Living Water’, He did not go after her sinfulness and say to her — repent of your sins first you sinner. He engaged her in a very meaningful conversation, although, she was considered an outcast by mortals.

  • Karla – To my recollection, Jesus always first met the need of the person before He commanded repentance. That shows His compassion and that also shows that He truly cared about that soul. Since Christians are followers of Christ, they should be compassionate just like Him. Compassion comes not from ordering people to repentance, it comes from showing loving kindness and an understanding of the pain and suffering of that other soul we all come across in our lives.

  • This country was founded by people grounded in the prominently Protestant form of Christianity. Freedom of religion is clearly defined as law because many earlier settlers fled Europe due to discrimination against their particular form of Protestant worship. This is why no one Faith was named as the Faith of America.
    Even so, the faiths outside of Protestantism were persecuted informally as their numbers grew….namely the Catholics.
    That being said, the country is clearly rooted in Judeo/Christian beliefs and moral outlook….since Judaism begot Christianity in both the Catholic and later Protestant form.
    Freedom of all religions should be the law, barring any crude Satanic cults, since the golden rule runs naturally in all of them.
    Atheists should acknowledge this as the reality and stop their attempts to strip away any imaginary or actual nod to Religion. No atheistic state has managed to last without totalitarian rule or persecution.

  • It appears that this discussion has gone off the rails. The issue is not whether Christianity or any other religion is true of false, but whether Christianity should be established as the national religion of the United States.

    I think the answer to that question is clearly no. The Constitution forbids the establishment of religion but supports the free exercise of religion. That means that the state has to be religiously neutral, even if 57% of Republicans feel otherwise.

  • Michael Glass -In the article it says whose Christianity should we follow?
    The answer is the Bible/Word of God so get all the facts straight and this
    discussion has not gone off the rails….in fact this discussion needs to be
    talked about all over the world because of all the false religions that have
    come into existence because people did not stick to what the Bible and all
    Jesus said! We all can see the results of us people not following the Truth!

  • Karla your False Religion is not the one to follow. Your hell might make you hot but it is not real of truth or Jesus lies.

  • I agree on the merits of church-state separation. Also, the author’s reductio is valid, and he’s right about the quest for official sanction. But advocates don’t seem to want to establish a state church, so doctrinal differences aren’t a part of their calculus.

    You could ask similar questions regarding advocacy for English as the official language. You might ask, for example, which dialect? After all, in the U.S. alone, the number of dialects ranges from about 3 to over 20, depending on who you ask. But asking is a waste of time because it’s not about specifics. It’s about affirming a certain version of Americanism. The same applies here.

    Official religions have a mixed history, at best. England, Finland, Norway, and Denmark – secular nations all – have state religions & churches. But so do Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Taliban-era Afghanistan, all highly theocratic. It’s chancy. So, my opinion is: err in favor of secularism & freedom. Keep religion & government…

  • “No atheistic state has managed to last without totalitarian rule or persecution.”

    Nonsense. Is Australia suffering under totalitarian rule and persecution due to having an atheist Prime Minister? How about England, which, despite having a state religion, has a large and growing population of atheists? What about Israel? After all, remember that David Ben-Gurion – a Zionist and Israel’s first Prime Minister – was also an atheist, and set up a secular government, albeit using religious language to great effect during his career. What about Sweden? Or Japan? The world is full of secular nations, some of them led by atheists or at least the irreligious.

    In any case, the Founders were not the pilgrims, who wanted to establish their own sectarian paradise – the city on the hill of Matt. 5:14 ( also c.f., John Winthrop). No, the Founders established an explicitly secular nation. They had a chance to make a sectarian Constitution, but they didn’t. Time to accept this and move on.

  • Karia, we’re arguing at cross purposes. The writer used the question of which form of Christianity to follow as an example of why this question cannot be answered by a political process. People have so many different ideas, and often those ideas are quite incompatible. When it comes to matters of religion the state has to remain neutral. If it takes sides, all sorts of problems arise.

  • Interesting you should mention Ben-Gurion — yes he was a secularist, but he also at least tacitly agreed with the ultra-Orthodox to give them control over Jewish religious affairs in exchange for them supporting the establishment of the State. So ironically an atheist helped create a theocracy. Even more ironically, it is only now, with the rise of the religious political parties, that the secular majority finally is starting to open its eyes to UO overreach.

  • “That being said, the country is clearly rooted in Judeo/Christian beliefs and moral outlook”

    That is a nonsense phrase. You couldn’t come up with a definition of Judeo/Christrian beliefs which is either rational or avoids circular reasoning. If you

    There is nothing inherent to democracy or religious freedom on Judaism or Christianity.

    “barring any crude Satanic cults, since the golden rule runs naturally in all of them.”

    There you go undermining any credibility you have. Whatever little cults you can think of are as valid under the law as yours is provided they play nice within laws of general application. You don’t actually believe in religious freedom

    “No atheistic state has managed to last without totalitarian rule or persecution.”

    The United States is the only nation with an inherently atheist constitution. It recognizes no religion under the law. It is prevented from both endorsing or interfering with religious practice.

  • I don’t think Israel is a theocracy in the traditional sense. Not like some of its Arab neighbors. The existence of Rabbinic courts – which, as I understand, preside only over religious issues, especially regarding marriage – do not a theocracy make. The national government is primarily secular, even if many within it have Zionist or Orthodox affinities.

    But yes, Ben-Gurion stands as an example of a secularist who recognized the cultural significance – or perhaps the political expediency – of religion. And now it’s getting out of hand. Is it a cautionary tale? I don’t know. Time will tell. It certainly doesn’t treat Palestinians as well as Jewish citizens, though it’s not clear this is due to religion as much as it might stem from lingering bad blood and distrust from decades of conflict.

  • “The United States is the only nation with an inherently atheist constitution.”

    Just when you think you’ve seen it all from Larry, he continues to come up with brand new innovations.

    So, let’s ask the obvious question: Where exactly, where specifically, does the U.S. Constitution endorse, adopt, or even **mention** atheism regarding government or states or individuals?

  • >>>“That being said, the country is clearly rooted in Judeo/Christian beliefs and moral outlook”

    It’s not clear at all. Repeated a lot, yes. Clear? No.

    From the World, a Christian magazine:

    “The Thomas Nelson publishing company has decided to cease publication and distribution of David Barton’s controversial book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson, saying it has “lost confidence in the book’s details.” See: http://www.worldmag.com/2012/08/lost_confidence

  • Caught you spamming again Karla. You’ve copied and pasted that same content, even the same typos, more than 3 dozen times on this site. Enough already.

    CEASE AND DESIST!

  • Caught you spamming again Karla. You’ve copied and pasted that same content, even the same typos, more than 3 dozen times on this site. Enough already.

    CEASE AND DESIST!

  • Caught you spamming again Karla. You’ve copied and pasted that same content more than 3 dozen times on this site. Enough already.

    CEASE AND DESIST!

  • Caught you spamming again Karla. You’ve copied and pasted that same content more than 3 dozen times on this site. Enough already.

    CEASE AND DESIST!

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