In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Kenneth C. Davis seeks to set the record straight about the Judeo/Christian foundations of the Unites States of America. A word of caution before proceeding: HuffPo isn’t exactly a bastion of unbiased journalism and Kenneth Davis is far from a disinterested historian. Davis’s books (Don’t Know Much about History) are widely read and touted as great history, but like much of history, the stories told are often selective at best.
Highlights in the History of a “Christian” Nation calls into question much of the current rhetoric concerning America being a Christian nation. A few of the less savory snippets of American history that Davis covers include:
Mayflower Compact (November 1620): Usually cited as the kickoff point for the “Christian nation,” the Mayflower Compact did indeed recognize the religious underpinnings of the new colony. It also recognized the sovereignty of the king.
Baptists arrested in Virginia: Between 1768 and 1778, Baptists were persecuted and arrested in Virginia, where the Anglican Church was the official church supported by public funds. (In New England, the Congregational Church enjoyed that support.)
Church and Slave State: Abolitionism had its roots in Christianity. But so did American slavery, which cited biblical justifications for the “peculiar institution.” In the 19th century, this divide led to splits within three Protestant denominations that divided North and South: the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. (In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its racist past and support of slavery, 140 years after the split.)
Davis concludes his article by adding, “Of course, it would be quite easy to list a great many nobler moments in American Christianity. But the point is that calling America a “Christian nation” is simply another myth— history as “bedtime story” or wishful thinking. History and Christianity deserve the truth— which after all, the Bible tells us, “will set you free.”
The problem with Davis’ article is not the accuracy of his historical facts. Unfortunately they are correct. America is not a Christian nation if by that one means:
- The overwhelming majority of its citizens are Christians in a biblical sense
- All of our Founding Fathers were practicing believers in Jesus Christ
- Our history isn’t marred by people using the name of Christ as a cloak for their own less- than-Christian ideologies and actions.
There were many things the Founders of this nation only got partially right. Of course the signers of the Mayflower Compact recognized the sovereignty of their earthly king. The Compact was signed over a century before the American Revolution. The early Pilgrims and Puritans weren’t looking to found a new country; what they wanted most was for all rulers to leave them alone to worship as God led them. Were Baptists persecuted in Virginia even after the signing of the Declaration of Independence? As a Baptist, I know full well they were. Were true believers split over the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War? Yes, and many are still divided over a number of issues.
So here’s the myth of the myth. Nothing about America’s foundations is demolished when Kenneth Davis calls the idea of our Christian origins nothing more than fairy tales. America wasn’t founded on perfection but on ideals, ideals firmly rooted in a Judeo/Christians worldview. Perhaps declaring we were founded on Christian principles is a mistake. But saying our nation was founded on a bedrock of ideals that sprang directly from the biblical heritage most of the Founders were raised in is an absolute certainty. How else can you explain one of the last recorded prayers of our first president?
“Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words, and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb and purge my heart by Thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of Thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in Thy fear, and dying in Thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy son, Jesus Christ.”