Is this a Christian nation?
By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
Over the past three and a half years, I have been watching and listening to the person who occupies the White House as its leader, and also those who have been blindly following him. To be honest, it has been surprising to me that many who had professed to be Christian, and who professed to have high values, have apparently abandoned all of that to follow a man who is an anti-Christian leader as I have ever studied.
Why do I say this? I say it because Jesus the Christ is the center of and the reason for Christianity. Jesus said that he did not come to break the law, but to fulfill it, to broaden it to include agape love – i.e., love for one another. The Jesus of the New Testament was one who walked and talked with the marginalized, whoever they were. He was one who, quoting words that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures that we are to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Christ said that what we call “The Great Commandment” is the foundation of the religion he said God wanted us to follow.
The late Peter Gomes said that the Bible is a public book, and that “while the text itself does not change, we who read the text do change.” The text, he says, “the text adapts itself to our capacity to hear it.” We read and hear the text but we interpret it in our own way. Because of that, he said in his book, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart, the Bible will always give offense. The way one group or individual interprets it is not going to be the way that other groups read and interpret it.
Thus, the words of the Gospel, especially those that admonish us to love each other and accept each other no matter what, a lesson Jesus showed by his actions, fall not on deaf ears, maybe, but on variegated ears. Philip Yancey suggested that the Gospel offends some conservatives, and Gomes calls the Gospel “scandalous” because it contains so many words that many of us find offensive and thus, simply ignore. That had to have been the case as the South developed a civic religion to justify its racism, and Walter Wink has suggested, rightly so, that there are words of Jesus that some to many Christians are just not going to abide by. For many, to be a “Christian” means that one acknowledges that Jesus was born, that he died and that he resurrected.
I am on the side of those people who read the words of Jesus. They are definitely difficult and unpleasant sometimes, and for many, the words of Jesus helped create a religion that is weak, as weak as is the concept of democracy. Many people believe in and adhere to a need for hierarchy, where one human being, perhaps anointed and appointed by God, is the ruler, who must be followed by all. That is their interpretation of Christianity.
The question is, though, do these people actually read the Gospels? They read portions of the Bible, but do they read the Gospels? As distasteful as his words are, Jesus never backed away from them, and he said expressly that only those who follow his words are in fact doing the will of God.
In spite of saying that this is a Christian nation, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Many people – on the conservative side – seem to want a king, not a president who follows the commands of God, and on the progressive side, there often seems to be a reluctance to follow Jesus’ distasteful and difficult words, even as they work for justice. Gomes said that “the problem in our culture is not religion, but the religious.”
Gomes referred to the “reticence of the pulpit;” in too many pulpits, the preachers rely on their culture rather than on the Gospels. It results in a people who do not know the Gospel, and thus feel no contrition, no conviction, no pull on their spirits if what they do runs counter to the words of Jesus. Gomes says that with “an ignorant people and a reticent pulpit,” there comes a “recipe for theological and biblical disaster.”
In spite of the claims that this is a “Christian nation,” examination of the facts debunks that claim. The founders were aware of Christianity and grew up going to church, but they purposefully avoided using the word “God” in the Constitution and many shied away from the notion of and belief in Jesus the Christ as a mystical figure. John Adams said outright, “This is not a Christian nation,” according to the History News Network and The Huffington Post.
The Gospel of Jesus changes lives and creates community, even if the people are reluctant to do so; cultural or civic religion, by contrast, seems to create division as it works to uphold its cultural beliefs in the name of God.
If we say “amen” as a nation, the sad truth is that we are not saying “amen” to the same things. And that being the case, the power of the Gospel is diluted. There is no monolithic Christian religion in this country. And that is a sad, sad truth.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. Her latest book, Rest for the Justice-Seeking Soul, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.