The International Herald-Tribune posted an interesting article on their website yesterday:
This is no anti-religious article. The writer—Newsweek editor Jon Meacham—doesn’t make the founding fathers out to be irreligious. In fact, he readily acknowledges that many of this country’s architects were deeply committed to their faith.
Meacham does, however, cite some interesting historical facts to support his argument that we are not a Christian nation. For example, when Connecticut ratified the Constitution, some felt there wasn’t enough religious language in it and campaigned to revise this country’s foundational document. Their efforts, however, failed. Meacham also quotes some who opposed the Constitution’s ratification because, in the words of one such critic, “No deity comes down to dictate it.”
Of course, our national liturgy is filled with religious language, and Meacham is not blind to this fact. His argument is not that Christianity has no place in our national story—just that it does not occupy the only place.
But what fascinates me more than Meacham’s historical observations are the theological questions he raises. He reminds us of the profoundly spiritual and political statement Jesus made to Pilate, governor of Judea, shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Meacham also cites Peter’s speech at Cornelius’ house, given on the occasion the apostle first realized that God does not prefer Jew over non-Jew (or vice versa):
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
— Acts 10:34 (TNIV)
For me, all of this raises the question: What would Jesus do with a “Christian nation” anyway? Is it something he even wants?
It seems to me that Jesus did not put his faith in nations to advance the kingdom of God. The notion of spreading the gospel by the sword (which, in the scriptures, is a metaphor for governments) originated with Constantine, not Jesus.
Jesus, it seems, had a better plan.
It hinged upon a group of followers who were not of this world, advancing a kingdom that was not of this world—that is, a kingdom that does not depend on the power of nations or governments or militaries or anything else that denotes power in the minds of most.
Apparently, Jesus was under the impression that small groups of people from every background imaginable could accomplish more simply by loving each other (and their neighbors) than any “Christian nation” ever could.
When we aspire to make this country a “Christian nation,” maybe we’re settling for less than what God wants to offer us.