,

Can We Stop Calling America a Christian Nation Yet?

Last year, as the strains of the presidential election droned on for what seemed like decades and our country heard continual stories of racial conflict, there was a Sunday I remember leading our congregation in prayer and conversation about what it might mean to find stillness in the midst of chaos.  We spent two weeks — two Sundays — in these conversations.  Week 1:  We talked about God STILL being God.  Week 2:  We talked about a God who STILLS the storms of our world.  And I thought I had done a good job of handling our difficult times with grace and truth.

Today I think these talks are like a songwriter who walks away after writing lyrics and then goes back a year later still happy with what she’s written.  When I look at my teaching notes, they “hold up”.  I like what I said and I would teach these things again.

But there’s a problem.

In these teachings I gave as a pastor with my congregation, I spoke as if the events of those days were out of the ordinary.  I taught from the Scriptures as if the chaos of police brutality and the gross unraveling of the free voting process turning into reality television snippets were a hiccup — something that would eventually go away and leave us with America as it “normally” exists.

Of course, after this weekend in Charlottesville, I’m reminded once again that these events, these patterns of unrest and infighting, and at the most honest level deep-seated racism and HATE are and have been the norm for longer than I’ve had my eyes and my ears and my heart open to the reality around me.

A bit of my backstory

I grew up in my Christian faith primarily in the 1990’s as an adolescent who found belonging in a community of believers who instilled in me affirmation that I was a child of God and I had potential to work for God for the good of his mission.  I remember attending camps and conferences through my teenage and college years and being deeply transformed by those experiences.  To this day, these stand as the formative years for me in my vocation and journey as a pastor.  I would not trade them.

But, I also recognize in the midst of any journey there are hazy illusions that convince us they are concrete realities.  

For me, the underlying theology and nationalistic pride in the United States as a (perhaps the) beacon of light shining out of a truly Christian nation was the assumption of those to whom I listened.  I remember pastors, leaders, authors, and other speakers decrying the apostasy of our nation that came a few decades earlier because of the removal of prayer in schools or the acceptance of abortion.  I remember the passionate call to put God back in his right place in America because only then could we be rescued from our threat of abandonment by the God who was obviously the king of our nation.

My assumption in all of this as a young believer in my teenage years?

Christianity fit into the American dream like an oven-mitt over the baker’s hand.  The two were synonymous and our nation had been founded by Christian forefathers with the best intentions and a clear commitment to not only Christian morals but Christian living.  We were truly a Christian nation.

It didn’t take long to have my views of the U.S. expanded.  I remember several steps along the journey of life that unhinged my assumptions and broadened my perspective.  Little things to big things that forced me to assess the unspoken rules of my Christianity and begin to understand that the color gray that often overlapped and out-shadowed what I assumed to be black and white was actually a beautiful color.

I remember a political science professor at my tiny, evangelical college who confronted my assumptions with grace and rigidity and helped me understand that liberal/conservative, democrat/republican didn’t work as labels in the Kingdom of God.

I remember the first time a student in my youth ministry confessed to me she was struggling with her sexual orientation and wondered if God hated her and all the easy answers to these difficult issues I’d been handed suddenly became that much cloudier.

I remember working in a proudly liberal (theologically and politically) church and a proudly conservative (theologically and politically) church and walking away from both jobs humbled by the Jesus-lovers I’d met and shared life with in each congregation.

In these experiences, I never forgot that label given so often to the U.S. — a Christian nation.  I remember songs, quotes, sermons, and books, all espousing this proposition that part of the uniqueness of the U.S. should lie in our identity as a truly Christian nation.

It perhaps hit me no more clearly than a time I worked behind the scenes of a concert for one of the mega-stars of contemporary Christian music.  For an hour and a half, he led worship.  He sang amazing and powerful congregational songs about Jesus, about living faithfully for Jesus, and about caring for the world in the name of Jesus.  Then, in the next fifteen minutes he performed a series of patriotic songs and the intensity of “worship” in the room became electric.  The passion and zeal that had existed in singing for Jesus was elevated to a new level as images of the flag were displayed on the HD screens of the church.  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

End the back story…

As I’ve watched and read the stories coming out of Charlottesville this weekend, the question I’ve been asking is simple.

Can we stop calling ourselves a Christian nation yet?

I know many reading this already have.  I know others who never did.  But I also know many, many Evangelical leaders and pastors, congregants and friends who still hold to this false theology that the word Christian can or ever should define an entire nation.  Friends, this is — if anything — a smoking gun of theological heresy.

The reality is God has never allowed himself to be co-opted to fit national agendas.  He didn’t allow it in Israel and he will not allow it for us in the United States.  In fact, at all points he seems to warn that the nationalistic desire to make God our biggest advocate and lobbyist (be it Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or whatever) will end with a failed attempt at divine power cornered in our own ambitions.

Can we stop calling ourselves a Christian nation yet?

So I’m asking this question as I’m watching the pictures and the videos of white supremacist terrorists spewing hate that says my black friends and my Asian friends and my immigrant friends do not belong in this Christian nation.

I’m asking this question as our president lives each day promoting and proclaiming his own excellence and infallibility across social media in the midst of this Christian nation.

I’m asking this question as we in small towns that are 98% white pretend these racial conversations do not affect us in this Christian nation.

I’m asking this question as those on the margins — the immigrant and refugees, the poor and homeless, the sexually disenfranchised, the beat down and worn out — continue to pass our church doors because we do not make them feel safe in this Christian nation.

I’m asking this question because I believe our nation is in desperate need of seeing Christ-followers truly act and live as Christians.

Those who incited the violence in Charlottesville this weekend moved in the name of God, claiming they represent Christ and the myth of a Christian nation.

But they do not represent me, and they do not represent my tribe, and they do not represent Jesus.

So I’m wondering, can we stop calling ourselves a Christian nation yet?  Because maybe when we do those who have been hurt, wounded, confused, and battered by the false representations of Christ… maybe then we could see an outpouring of love, unity, reconciliation, healing, lament, and forgiveness at every level to truly become the Kingdom God intended.

For my friends of color who are once again scared or angry, confused or broken, forgive us for believing this myth for far too long.  Forgive our silence.  Forgive our inaction.  Forgive me for not always knowing how to act or how to love more strongly or how to do anything.  But at least know this.  The myth has long ago been shattered for me… and I’m doing the best I can to piece together a new mosaic of truth.

2 replies
  1. Matt Kerner
    Matt Kerner says:

    That was Phenomenal!!! On my way to church this morning I wondered how many pastors in churches across America would ignore what happened in Charlottesville but I knew without question that the terrorism that occurred there would not be ignored at my church. I’m grateful to have been found by New Community!!!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *