Family, fellow disciples of Jesus, and friends;
I received an email forward today that raises an important issue regarding our daily life, and I had some thoughts in response to it. We were encouraged to write a message in support of the thought behind the email, but I wanted to go deeper to write some thoughts that would challenge us to go beyond what most people rant and rave about in our society. Here is the basic message I received;
As I was listening to a news program last night, I watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride. . .”we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, . . . As with so many other statements I’ve heard him (and his wife) make, I never thought I’d see the day that I’d hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation. To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian nation–and to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that. How far this nation has come from what our founding fathers intended it to be.
I hope that each of you will do what I’m doing now–send your concerns, written simply and sincerely, to the Christians on your email list. With God’s help, and He is still in control of this nation and all else, we can show this man and the world in November that we are,indeed, still a Christian nation! Please pray for our nation!”
That italicized section was the message I received, and I appreciate the thought behind this email, and the desire in whoever wrote it that the United States be a people who follow Jesus. I also had some thoughts in response that I’d like to share, as well as a simple question that might help us walk through this issue seeking wisdom rather than easy answers.
We need to talk about issues like this in ways that value the voice that each of us has; and we must, WE MUST do it without turning our backs on one another when we disagree.
My first thought is this: Has America always, for all time, 100% of its citizens, been “Christian”?
I can’t quote long sections of the founding fathers of America, but I do remember one of the fundamental things they remembered that led to them wanting to separate from British rule. That thing was the memory of how western Europe and Britain were completely shredded by wars that had started for religious reasons; some were between “Protestants” and “Catholics”, some were between “Christians” and Muslims, and some were between “Christians” and pagan barbarians.
In England’s case, when different rulers came to the throne, they would claim to be either “Anglican” (Protestant) or Catholic, and then a bloodbath would follow to silence or kill anyone who disagreed with their commitment. As I recall, King Henry started the Church of England because the Pope wouldn’t let him divorce his wife and marry someone else like he wanted, and Queen Mary, a later ruler and Catholic, was called “Bloody Mary” because of how ruthlessly she killed Protestants.
So this is what America’s founding fathers saw; religious disagreements leading to bloodbaths. And that was a major reason why they, in the First Amendment to the Constitution, stated, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
What that meant was that the government would not stick its neck in religious conflicts and intervene with force behind one group or another; that the government was officially neutral unless it was a matter of law. So Catholicism and Protestantism or any other “ism” wouldn’t be the official “religion” of America.
And while disciples of Jesus may agree that the Christian faith impacts everything (or should impact everything) we think about, and creates a way of life that everyone on earth would benefit from, I think we also can agree that it’s a good thing that the government has created a protection against someone killing us because of our religious practice (or lack thereof).
What I’m saying, specifically, is that Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Christians, or whatever other faith have the protected right to practice the “free exercise” of their faith, as long as it doesn’t break the law of the land.
Do you see the difference in thinking there? Of course Christians want the entire world to be disciples of Jesus, but we can’t force them at the point of a gun or sword to do that, and when we try to, we end up staining the name of Christ, angering God, and living a lie rather than the truth.
So we win Buddhists, Muslims, Jews (and people who think they’re Christians but aren’t) over with our integrity, our courage, our love, and a deep commitment to our communities of faith (churches).
The protection of religious expression is part of what I thought was very wise in the thinking of the founding fathers of America. Can we agree that it’s a good thing not to kill off Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and our falsely Christian neighbors for not agreeing with us?
I think the answer to my first question is this, “No, America has not always, for all time, with 100% of its citizens, been Christian.” What that means is that there are Christians living in America, and that the laws of the land reflect some Christian commitments, but America is a nation of a bunch of different persons who think different, live different, and practice different faiths, and always has been.
I believe part of the reason the founders of America fought and died for America was that there could be a place in the world where religious disagreements wouldn’t turn into a bloodbath. I also believe part of the reason the founders of America fought and died for America was the fundamental belief that we can live alongside persons of all different beliefs and be in relationship with them without being shredded by our disagreements.
And I also believe that when Christians are willing to kill others because they disagree with us, we have left the side of our Lord who calls us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The kingdom of God is much more than the people of this world often settle for.