In God We Trust?

In Search of Christian America

By: Mark King

Let me say at the outset that as I thank God for the privilege of being born and raised in the USA. It is an incredible blessing and I don't want anything I write below to be misunderstood. Furthermore, I think the United States has been an incredible force for good in the world.

I grew up in Christian America. I grew up in a country that had been founded by Christians on Christian principles with the expectation that its citizens would be Christians who were governed by laws that generally enforced Christian morality. However, there were new ominous forces on the horizon that were attempting to suppress Christianity in America and these forces were gaining ground. Only a forceful response from the "moral majority" would be able to stem the tide. Political action and activism were prescribed. Although God had blessed America because of her Christian founding and principles, we were in danger of losing God's favor and indeed incurring his wrath as the nation abandoned these principles.

I believed that the founders were godly men who were led by God to found our nation. The founding documents, primarily the constitution, while not divinely inspired in the same sense as Scripture, were nonetheless composed with God's guidance. It did concern me that the Constitution allowed slavery, but I assumed that in some way that must have been OK since God was guiding the founding fathers. But the belief that God was specifically guiding them put me in the place of having to defend whatever they did — a position I did not like.

As I began to question my original assumptions, I came across three different books that helped me reevaluate those assumptions and come to what I think is a more historically and biblically responsible position.

The first book is This Rebellious House: American History and the Truth of Christianity (IVP) by evangelical historian Stephen Keillor. He writes out of the same concern that had bothered me: If America is a Christian nation, defending America becomes tantamount to defending Christianity. Keillor asserts that America was never a Christian nation and that the evidence for this assertion is clear. The nation was founded in rebellion against the duly authorized authorities which is contrary to New Testament teaching. Beyond that, if you look at the treatment of the slaves, Native Americans, and immigrant workers over the years you would see that America was never acting as a Christian nation. The nation has abandoned itself to the "pursuit of happiness" found in autonomy and prosperity. While the founders and population at large may have been culturally Christian, this does not mean that the majority were believers in the New Testament sense of the word.

The second book I encountered was American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meacham (Random House). Meacham looks at quotes from the founding fathers about Jesus and the Bible. I had heard many of these quotes while I was growing up, and they were entered as evidence for the Christianity of the founding fathers and their intent to found a Christian nation. However, Meacham also gives larger context to the quotes. I had already become convinced that most of the founding fathers had a respect for Jesus as a moral teacher and for the Bible as a great book, but little beyond that. This book confirmed my previous assessment. The founders felt that if the nation were to be made up of free people, they would have to have some internal locus of control. If people live by the 10 Commandments or the Golden Rule, then society will be much more stable. The founders wanted a "civil religion" that was broad and bland enough to include all types of believers (Christians of all types, deists, various other sects). Very few (maybe one or two) actually believed in the inspiration of the Bible, the deity and resurrection of Christ, or the need for new birth by grace through faith. They would have been far more at home in what we would label today as "liberal mainline" churches. The thoroughgoing secularist is wrong in his reading of the founding fathers but so is the religious right that wants to "reclaim" our Christian heritage.

The third book that has influenced my thinking is Beyond Culture Wars: Is America a Mission Field or a Battlefield? by Michael Horton (Moody Press). Horton makes the case that Christians are often using political means to try to accomplish what can only be accomplished by the preaching of the gospel and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We think that if we can pass laws that will enforce conservative morality, that we will be a Christian nation once again. This is an incredibly polarizing attempt as secular people recoil at the thought of living under what they would consider to be Christian oppression. It causes us to go to war with people we should be trying to persuade with a loving presentation of the truth. Horton agrees that America has never been a Christian nation. He proposes that the reason God has blessed us is because of grace, not our good works — we never deserved it!

This understanding has influenced my reaction to the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage. This did not come as a shock to me as public opinion has been evidently shifting on this issue for quite some time. While I hate to see any change in law or policy that is in such clear opposition to Scriptural guidelines, I don't have to react in fear or disgust as if this was the first time it had ever happened. I need to simply continue to share the gospel, speaking the truth in love.

I do not believe that this decision is the final straw that will require the judgment of God. Romans 1:26-27 gets a lot of exposure in the debate over homosexuality:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
If you look at the passage in context, the initial sin that starts the downward spiral is a smug self-sufficiency and a failure to acknowledge God and to give thanks to Him. Romans 1:18-23 says:
the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Although idol worship, strictly speaking, has never been an issue in the United States, it would be quite easy to make the case that money and the things it can buy are our modern-day idols. To be completely candid, I believe that this decision might actually be the judgment of God on a nation that was founded in rebellion and has committed itself to personal autonomy and the pursuit of wealth and prosperity. God's abandonment to all kinds of sexual immorality is the result of our insistence upon independence from God, although we have always maintained a nominal "In God We Trust." I am saddened by laws that run contrary to God's law. I am thankful for the many blessing that God has bestowed upon me and my family through this nation, including the freedom of religion. But most of all, I am reminded that my trust is not in the United States, any of the branches of government, or in the political process. So, the recent decision and the celebration of Independence Day remind me that I need to reaffirm my declaration of dependence and trust in God Himself — the God who has saved my by his grace through the redemption provided in Jesus Christ. And while the United States will pass from the scene one day, the kingdom of God will last forever, and I must never be tempted to confuse the two.

Published 7-13-15