Academics have announced that America has entered a post-Christian era. This pronouncement suggests that previously America was a Christian nation. This suggestion is controversial because many have tried to make the case that America never was a Christian nation, did not have a Christian founding.
Any discussion on this topic must begin by defining the term “Christian nation.” There are some ways in which we obviously have not been a Christian nation nor intended to be so. We never sought to be a Christian nation in the sense that citizenship required that one be a Christian. Nor were we a Christian nation from the perspective that we viewed the New Testament as our Constitution or that we asserted that Jesus Christ was our king. We were not even a Christian nation in the sense that we acknowledged Christianity as our state religion as some other countries have done. In fact, our Constitution prohibits our government from establishing a state religion.
However, before entering a post-Christian era, we were a Christian nation culturally. Wallbuilders website offers a broad array of material supporting this position.
For example, U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall stated: [W]ith us, Christianity and religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people our institutions did not presuppose Christianity and did not often refer to it and exhibit relations with it.”
A number of our Presidents have made statements to the effect that America was a Christian nation.
John Adams: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were. . . . the general principles of Christianity.”
Teddy Roosevelt: “[T]he teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally….impossible for us to figure to ourselves what that life would be if these teaching were removed.”
Woodrow Wilson: “America was born a Christian nation – America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”
Herbert Hoover: “American life is builded, and can alone survive, upon . . . [the] fundamental philosophy announced by the Savior nineteen centuries ago.
Harry Truman: “This is a Christian Nation.”
These and many other evidences support the position that the culture of America had been shaped and until the 1960s was dominated by Christianity.
In practical terms this meant that when Americans spoke of God, the God of the Bible was in view. Americans displayed a general acceptance of the truth and authority of Scripture. Prior to the Supreme Court’s banning of prayer (1962) and Bible reading (1963) in schools, many if not most public educational institutions began the school day by reading Scripture and having prayer. Most Americans conveyed an acceptance of a biblical morality.
The fact that Christianity defined our culture meant that even those who did not practice Christianity in any formal sense nonetheless fell under its influence. Consequently, their lives reflected Christian attitudes and values. Many who did not personally practice Christian morality nonetheless acknowledged it as defining how people should live. They ascribed to honesty, refraining from sex outside of marriage, fidelity within marriage, responsibility, and decency as attributes that should govern their personal lives and society. Therefore the reach of Christian culture went well beyond the walls of the church,
The influence of Christianity also manifested itself by its almost inescapable presence in the public square. Biblical inscriptions on public buildings, chaplains in the Senate and House of Representatives, placing one’s hand on the Bible to take the oath of office or to be sworn in as a witness, the placement of “In God we trust” on our currency, and many other factors displayed our Christian cultural orientation.
As we consider the power of culture and the fact that during the period prior to the 1960s American culture was shaped by Christianity, it is difficult not to attribute the success of our nation during that period to Christianity. This point is brought home even more graphically as we consider that contemporaneous with the rejection of Christianity beginning in the 1960s has been substantial American decline.
However, American success is linked to Christian culture not only by the timing of American success and failure but also by the content of Christian teaching. The next several posts will identify specifically the elements of Christianity that engendered American success.