Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea

Fea admits at the very beginning, this is a complex subject. Just what does “Christian nation” mean?
Those who oppose the concept frequently quote the beginning of Article II of the Treaty of Tripoli, a 1797 agreement between the U.S. And Tripoli: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” (3) The treat was signed by President John Adams and ratified unanimously be the senate.
On the other hand, “The idea that the United States was a 'Christian nation' was central to American identity in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War,” (4) Prior and during the Civil War, Fea says both the North and South considered themselves “Christian.” “The people of the Confederate States of America believed that they were citizens of a Christian nation precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.” (20)
Fea notes that there are some who see the U.S. As God ordained, second in place only to Israel. As D. James Kennedy said, “God established this land of America, a nation in His providence, a nation unique in the history of the world.” (62) God has a purpose for America, Christian nationalists say.
Fea looks at the early colonists to explore the religious values they had. He investigates the events and comments around the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Fea also reviews the life and writings of John Adams. He “could not accept the historic belief that Jesus Christ was God or that his death atoned for the sins of the world...” (193) He also cast “aside the traditional Christian belief in the Trinity.” (193)
Jefferson was an avid follower of Jesus' moral teachings but “rejected any doctrines that could not be explained by reason...” (204) Yet, he thought “that it was rational to believe in a God who created the world.” (204) Franklin believed in God and viewed religion as useful in promoting virtuous behavior. Witherspoon was the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence and “was indeed a man of deep Christian piety and orthodox Christian faith.” (228) John Jay “affirmed the idea that America was a Christian nation. He believed that the United States should privilege Christianity...” (235)
Fea's conclusion: “History in complex.” (244) He never offers a definitive answer. There is no simple yes or no. He hopes he has given his readers much to think and talk about.
He says, “it is my hope that this book might help Americans to think deeply about the role that Christianity played in the American founding. We owe it to ourselves to be informed citizens who can speak intelligently and thoughtfully about our nation's past.” (246)

Westminster John Knox Press, 246 pages.
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