Unraveling the Paradox of American Christianity – Part I

Have you ever wondered why Jesus and American values seem to go hand-in-hand? I have, too. The ‘America was built on Christianity’ narrative is not only a commonly-believed notion, but it’s also a foundational reason for why many believe these religious viewpoints should govern the law of the land. To believe otherwise is borderline unpatriotic and blasphemous.

But why though?

I grew up in church and have served in some capacity, in various ministries for large and small congregations, throughout my life. Yet, I’m always in awe and confusion about many Christians’ intense sense of patriotism and duty to push our religious agenda on the laws of today’s society. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t see or hear phrases like: “America was founded on Christian values” in response to gay rights or my personal favorite, thanks to our recent election: “We need to bring Jesus back into the White House!

Vicki Yohe’s Instagram

As a matter of fact, did anyone peep that utterly ridiculous meme, posted by gospel singer Vicki Yohe (see right)? The photo suggests that Jesus was away on an 8-year vacay while former President Barack Obama was running amuck. Now that Donald Trump is in office, Jesus can finally get back to the White House and make everything holy again!

*Insert epic eye roll*

There are so many problems with this kind of thinking that I hardly know where to begin. This Americanized version of Christianity has gotten out of hand and it’s high time we address its blatant contradictions. This will be the first of many posts examining this movement, because there are quite a few angles to consider when discussing this.

For starters, let’s examine the first issue:

Christianity and American Values Aren’t the Same

Despite popular belief, America wasn’t founded on Christian values. Was there an acknowledgement of a higher being back then? Sure. Terms like “the Creator” are sprinkled throughout the Declaration of Independence and “In God We Trust” is on all of our currency. However, neither of those terms are exclusive to just Christianity. Many other religions acknowledge a higher power and call it a variety of names, all of which, indicate an author of creation. Even though Christianity was the predominant religion in the colonies, there were numerous factions that each had their own views on how to worship. Needless to say, everyone wasn’t on the same page back then. Thankfully, the Constitution set some things in stone that still apply to us today.

If we turn to the Constitution, the First Amendment grants us all rights to freedom of religion, and the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses cemented the separation of church and state. Prior to the signing of the Constitution, religion was on the upswing. According to the Library of Congress, the 18th century was the era of The Great Awakening. Approximately 75 to 80 percent of the population attended churches, but bear in mind that even back then, there were plenty of other religions including Quakers, Congregationalists, and believers in Deism. So prior to the signing of the Constitution, Christianity wasn’t the only party in town, folks.

So where does this idea come from that America was founded on Christianity and why are all laws supposed to be subject to Christian standards of morality? History shows us that there was a deeply concerted effort not to force people to obey laws influenced by religion. This is a foundational tenant in one of America’s most sacred documents, yet I find zealous Christians frequently, and purposefully, overlooking these details. When Christians demand that we have a Christian president, Christian laws, and treat other tax-paying, non-Christian humans as inconveniences unworthy of equal treatment, then you’ve treaded into dangerous, anti-American territory.

But we’re supposed to be the salt of the earth and be the light to help people find Jesus!

This is true. But this has absolutely nothing to do with force feeding the public laws that are rooted in Christian beliefs just because we believe it’s right. Interestingly enough, Thomas Jefferson was a staunch believer in exercising free will and said as much in his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom act that was written two years prior to the ratification of the Constitution. It’s no surprise that he played an integral part in the drafting of the First Amendment, too.  I’m going to excuse the fact that Jefferson was a slaver and share this excerpt from that act that may shed light on his motivation for the First Amendment:

“Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time. …” – Thomas Jefferson.

Hm. Seems like Jefferson was hinting that God gave us free will and that the government doesn’t get to usurp that gift. So who are we, as mere humans, to enforce righteousness on others through law? Seems like Deuteronomy 30:19 made it clear that we have the right to choose life or death, too. Even God refused to force himself upon us (Revelation 3:20), so why do we take it upon ourselves as Believers to dictate to the nation who and how they serve?  

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski at https://flic.kr/p/74r4YJ

I get the desire of wanting a Christian nation. How lovely would that be, if we’d all just live the way God intended for us to live, right? The problem is, that isn’t the foundation this nation was built upon. America is a nation that honors and respects a higher being, but not one that honors only one faith. But many of the core issues hard fought by conservative Christians are rooted in the belief that America is a Christian-based nation and that it is the believer’s role to keep it that way. I struggle to sign on to that because American history and the Bible tells us that’s just not the case.

Rather than focusing our energies on building relationships with the sinner, getting to know the sinner and eventually convert the sinner; the church chooses to hone in on supporting legislation that prohibits the sinner from sinning and trying to recreate the good old days, where the law was preached as the gospel rather than grace.

 The crux of American Christianity is that Jesus and ‘Merica go together, but history tells us it’s not that cut and dry. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being Christian and patriotic, there is something dangerously problematic with merging the purposes of the two entities and putting a Jesus stamp on it.

This Americanized version of the faith is nothing but a civic religion, that threatens to pit the church against society, spur a growing hatred towards Christians and widen a growing divide in this nation. It has been used as a tool of a manipulation and control, with its greatest feat being the election of our 45th president.  This is not the Christianity Jesus inspired.

My sentiments towards the state of American Christianity is the very reason as to why I made Saved & Woke and why my face remains stuck in a permanent side eye and screw face position these days. There’s something very problematic about this faction of Christianity. We’d be wise to address it.

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Creator of Saved & Woke. Christian Apologetic yet unapologetically Black. Former journalist. Learning how to temper my petty, so God can use me. Bear with me.