The idea that the United States was founded distinctly as, and should definitively be, a “Christian nation” is strongly held by those who comprise what is known as the evangelical right. This ideological agenda is what fuels their electoral passion and drives their unique version of political activism.
“God and Country” is a frame of reference from which flows an agenda aimed at incorporating a particular interpretation of the Bible (usually a somewhat narrow interpretation) into legislation, executive order and judicial action. Also within this framework, American patriotism is treated as though it were a biblical virtue. Further, democracy, capitalism, and their corollaries are subtly (or in some cases not so subtly) held as Christian values.
The ideological framework of the evangelical right seems to wrap the Bible in an American flag and the Constitution in a Bible cover. A reasonable analysis of history and a proper understanding of God’s purpose for the church within society would lead to a different place though.
The United States was not established to be an expressly and/or exclusively Christian nation. Far from seeking to form a definitively Christian nation, the Founders sought rather to form a religiously tolerant nation.
No doubt many of the Founders were religious men—most of those were Christians in the very broad sense of the term. But it must be understood that many of these Christian Founders were not by any stretch evangelical as they are commonly assumed to be by many on the Christian Right. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was a naturalist who would not accept anything in the Bible that even hinted of the miraculous. While the Founders confessed of a
Creator from whom we are endowed with certain unalienable rights, many of them were deists who denied that God was personal or involved in the world.
Even had the Founders all been evangelicals who sought to construct a government and culture that was definitively Christian/evangelical, does that mean we should continue that legacy? The purpose of the Church and the role of Christ-followers in this world, as I understand Scripture, is to be living out an alternative way–the way of Jesus–within the larger society and culture. I don’t see any biblical support for Constantinian-like efforts to Christianize a society through edict. The gospel and its overflowing implications upon those who believe it and live in light of it is not real if it is forced upon people and not permitted to be freely accepted or rejected.
One thing in which many of the Founders did believe that we would do well to follow is the separation of Church and state. All of history shows that whenever the two get bound together (as in “God and Country” and ”Christian nation”) the result is always the perversion of the Church. Its purposes get co-opted by the state.
The state needs to be the state. And the Church needs to be the Church. This doesn’t mean leaving our faith at the door when entering the public square, but it also doesn’t mean forcing our faith upon the rest of society by way of the government.