I am a Christian. I believe in Christ’s teaching to “love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
I am an American. I love my country.
Two separate things, or one and the same?
Every year, on the anniversary of the horrific September 11th attacks, I memorialize the lives lost in my own small way. I post the image you see above on my Facebook page.
It has a cross, which to me stands for hope and faith and God’s resurrection power over sin and death and destruction.
It has an American flag symbolizing my country.
One of the things I love about my country is that I am free to practice my faith in the way I live my life. The laws of my country protect my ability to do that.
In some parts of the world, there are religious extremists— some of them the spiritual successors of the 9/11 terrorists— who are fighting to establish “sharia law” in the countries where they live. Most Americans agree that this is wrong. But we differ as to our reasoning.
Some of us see America as a Christian nation, and so we oppose sharia law because we favor laws that reflect Christian values, not Muslim values.
Others make a careful distinction between our faith and our nation. We oppose sharia law because in our view, the establishment of religious beliefs— any religious beliefs— into society’s law is destructive both to the religion and the society.
Which view is right? It matters, because there are grave implications in how we stand against extremism. To the first group, it is by enacting laws, in our own country, reflecting our own values, taking a stand as Christians. To the second, it is by protecting our diversity of religious faith, taking a stand together as Americans, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or None Of The Above.
View #1: The case for a “Christian nation”
When it comes to separating religious views from secular laws, there is a fundamental problem: while easy to state in principle, it is nearly impossible in practice. This is because, for each and every one of us, our values are shaped by our “worldview” or our “set of beliefs” or our “religion” or whatever you want to call it, informing our decisions about right and wrong, which is inseparable from the creation of law.
Even in seemingly cut-and-dried areas, we cannot agree because our worldviews are different. Take, let’s say, murder, everyone’s favorite example of a moral absolute. We all believe murder is wrong, but! here’s the snag: we also believe that self-defense is OK. Which one is which? The polarizing debate over what killings are right and wrong is front page news every week.
Without some set of shared values, without some kind of moral compass, there can be no agreement as to law. Given our nation’s history, the closest thing we have to a shared barometer is Judeo-Christian values. Last February, a spate of editorials trumpeted atheist parenting skills, yet even there, the ever-present measure of good parenting was teachings central to Christianity: the sanctity of human life, the value of morality, the centrality of empathy.
When we come to the table to reason together, seeking the consensus which is indispensable to legitimacy in law, we could do a lot worse as a starting place than “do unto others as you would have done to you” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.
View #2: The case for separation of church and state
A recent issue of The Mission Society’s Unfinished magazine said it all. An article called “Living missionally in a post-Christian context” made the following point:
Christianity has certainly influenced American culture. But that is quite different than saying it is a “Christian culture.” If US missionaries believe their home culture to be Christian, the line between Christian faith and American culture can become indistinguishable.
When we imagine America as a Christian nation, here is the problem: we, the imaginers, are not perfect. Parts of what we imagine are biblically inspired, yes, but parts are shaped by our own personal and cultural biases. Those parts are, in fact, not God’s will at all. Putting it bluntly: we are fallen, we are sinful, so part of what we imagine is wrong. We just don’t know which parts.
There is a bigger problem with our efforts to enact Christian values into law: it badly distorts our notion of what Christ taught. Christ did not come to reveal a set of rules for all to obey. He did not. They had that already; that was what he came to change. To focus our efforts as Christians on making rules for everyone to obey… that is the very “yeast of the Pharisees” that Christ warned us against. The seeds of our own destruction, of the American Church’s destruction, are sown when we scatter to the chamber floors and the courthouses; instead, Christ would much rather see us at the homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons.
The genius of the “and”
Should America be a Christian nation or shouldn’t it? Both.
It should be, because to so many of our society’s ills, Christ has the answer. As it says in 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” That is what we need to be putting into our society. If we could be a Church of self-sacrificing true Christians, I can’t imagine that all our other problems wouldn’t find their way to a solution.
It shouldn’t be, because if we think that our Christian faith needs to be about bearing the weight of law to make our society behave, we have missed the entire point.
Letting go of America being a Christian Nation — JoryMicah.com