Tag Archives: politics

Politics, anger and evangelical Christians

Politics for me is like driving by an automobile accident.  I really don’t want to look, but fighting the urge to do so is difficult.  Last century, I minored in political science while earning a journalism degree. I had looked forward to a career doing political coverage as a writer.  Blessedly, the direction of my life changed and as the years have gone by, I have developed a distaste for much of what passes itself off as politics these days. Politics is more about winning elections than creating policy.  Election coverage reminds of a halftime report during a college football game.

Still, because of the past connection, something catches my eye and I will look.  There was article recently online about some supposed coverup by the Obama administration. The article had a slant, but what news coverage doesn’t these days.  To read news well these days, you have to find a variety of sources, slide down the slant and see where you land.  That might be somewhere near the truth because journalism is more about advocacy than truth.  Take out the slant, read critically and look for the truth.

A discipline that I am trying to develop in reading news online is not to read the comments posted by readers, because that is where trolls come out to play. At the end of that particular article, there was one of the worse comments I have ever seen.  A reader mentioned the President and a noose in the same sentence.  It was tasteless and offensive. For one, you shouldn’t even joke about threatening the President, and I came away only hoping that it was a joke.  Also, the racist connotations of that statement are over the top.  And finally, the only person likely to take a comment like that seriously works for the Secret Service.

I hope that the person who made that comment would not claim to be a born again Christian.  I can only hope, because honestly, when it comes to politics, evangelicals are often guided too much by anger and not enough by a desire to glorify God and bring honor to Jesus Christ. I heard a believer once say that Christians need to get angrier and stand up for themselves.  I don’t think that the book of James encourages that teaching.

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20, HCSB)

If we really want to bring about God’s righteousness is the world, we won’t do so by being angry.

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Our Motivation for Being Biblical Families

My wife and I recently attended a marriage conference where patriotism was mentioned as a reason for having a strong, Biblically based Christian family.  In reading a devotion for couples together, we found the same motivation mentioned.  The reasoning goes that by having strong Christian families we can make our nation great once again.  Personally, patriotism is a poor reason to have a family based on Biblical principles.

Would we apply the idea of patriotism as a reason to have such a family to all believers everywhere, even if they lived in a country that we think of as an “enemy”?  Biblical truth is truth for all people everywhere.  Patriotism as a motivation for Christian conduct reflects an American-centric Christianity that borders on idolatry.  Another reason that I disagree is that it that it elevates family above other areas of Christian obedience such as ministry to others and fellowship with other believers.  How many parents justify missing church with the need for family time?  This can also, at worst, be a form of idolatry and at best reflects a weak understanding of the doctrine of the church.

Finally, it represents a dethroning of Christ and His glory as the motivation of discipleship.  We are created to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  In Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul wrote a husband’s love for his wife should be the same as Christ love for the church.  I hope to obey the Bible in our Christian family not for the sake of my country but to testify of Jesus’ love for us.  As people see Christian families, our desire should be for them to see a reflection Christ and to be drawn to Him.  As Christian we should seek to be more than family-focused and patriotic.  We should be Kingdom focused, Christ glorifying and God centered families.  His glory is our motivation

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Part 3

Many Christian nationalist believe that it is important to prove that America is a Christian nation.  If not, they fear evangelical Christians will be intimidated into abandoning the public square and losing their influence as salt and light in the world.  For that reason, the type of historical analysis that John Fea did in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? could be seen as threatening.  However, I see much to encourage evangelical Christians to be involved in shaping the culture around them.

One is that from Fea’s book, we see that evangelical Christianity has always been an influence upon American society.  The perspective of many that evangelicals are some new phenomenon with a desire to take over the reigns of political power has no basis in historical fact.  Until the 1920s conservative evangelicals were a prominent part of society and public discourse.  It was only after the Scopes trial and losing the battle for mainline denominations that we who are conservative evangelicals went underground.  While underground, we focused on evangelism and education, both to which evangelicals should give more attention now.  In so doing, we laid the groundwork for re-entering the public square.  However, that is the place we should have always been.

From history, we know that we have a place on the public square.  There we should stand for justice and righteousness.  We should challenge society to be more conformed to the Christian ethical standards of love and self sacrifice for common good that the founders believed essential for the success of a republic form of government.  We should live by those values because those are the actions modeled by He who gave His life for us to save us from our sins.

But we must also realize that there are others on the public square as well.  Like us, they have always been there in one form or another.   Our task is not to only convince them of our political views or our social values, but above all else to proclaim to them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.   They may not play fair by our rules, but we must never play by their rules.  We must not distort history or engage in personal attacks.  We must proclaim truth with clarity and live truth with joy.

As we stand on the public square, we must stand not upon economic or political ideologies but upon God’s Word.  If we do this, we will not always side with Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals.  Consistency with God’s Word will be inconsistent with the standards of those who take all of their cues from the world around them.

And with that, I want to make one last point.  Was America founded as a Christian nation?  In reality, I don’t think that the answer should matter to us as evangelical believers.  The type of conduct that I mention above does not depend on where we were born or of what country we are a part.  It is not about being a citizen of the United States. It is about being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  And as citizens of His kingdom, we are fellow citizens with people in places like North Korea, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Their earthly citizenship is not in countries that could in be called Christian, yet they live as followers of Christ according to the same standards by which American Christians must live.  No matter where we live, we are called upon to believe the gospel, live out the gospel and make disciples.  That is our duty as citizens of God’s kingdom, and really, it doesn’t matter if America is Christian nation or not. We must obey the Word of God.

Perhaps, the more appropriate question is, “Is America a Christian nation?”  I believe that the answer is that if it was, it isn’t now.  We are post-Christian or rapidly moving that way.  Evangelical Christians can fight against it blindly, or understand it and respond in a Christ-like and Biblical manner.  In some cases, that means we will seek to change society. In other cases, our only option will be to explain why we hold to a different standard. But always, we must proclaim that which is of first importance “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to Scripture.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Part 1

In the next three posts, I will review and interact with the book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation by John Fea.  While there has been a great deal of buzz about the book, not much has been said about the author.  Fea is an associate professor of American History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where is also Chair of the History Department.  Messiah College states on its website that it is nonsectarian but “…highlights the specific emphases of the Anabaptist, Pietistic and Wesleyan traditions.”  Those who are familiar with those traditions recognize that they emphasize private piety, separation of church and state and in more recent history, social justice.  Anabaptists believe strongly in the separation of church and state and are pacifist.  They strongly oppose government coercion by force.  It would be interesting to know how much these views shape Fea’s perspective; however, those views are not obvious in his book.

Fea did not make his purpose clear in the book until the concluding chapter.  He intended to show that the answer to the question in the title is much more nuanced than those debating the issue on left and right tend to understand.  As you will see in my summary and interaction with the book, I think that he in large part succeeded in his intent.  Those on either side of the issue wishing to discredit the other by using this book will have a hard time, not that it will stop anyone from trying.  Fea’s main concern as a historian is that we approach the study of history correctly which means that we do not read our current cultural wars back into it.

Fea outlined how we should study history in the introduction by discussing things that historians must do—the five Cs.

  • They must “… see change over time.”
  • They must “…interpret the past in context.”
  • They “…are always interested in causality.”
  • They “…are concerned with contingency.”
  • They “…realize that the past is complex.”

Fea believes that many people involved in the debate over Christian origins of the nation ignore these principles.  While he accused both sides in his book of violating them, he seems more disturbed by Christian nationalist such as David Barton than those on the other side.  Barton uses facts as a lawyer would.  He tries to overwhelm the opposing viewpoint with evidence.  Fea does not believe that Barton is doing proper historical study.

To illustrate how complex the issue is, in Chapter 1, Fea began with the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli to end interference of American shipping by the Barbary pirates.  Article 11 of the treaty says, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

This may look like case closed, but according to Fea, it is not.  While no one in America appears to have debated the wording of the treaty, the press during the conflict spoke in very different terms.  They portrayed it as a conflict between Christians and Muslims.  Tales of American sailors being forced to become Muslims were common.   By media reports and the writings of citizens, it seemed clear that the American public saw itself as a Christian nation. As I read the narrative that Fea wrote, it struck me how eerily familiar it sounded with the political establishment saying that America was not a Christian nation while much of the public had a very different understanding.  To clarify what a Christian nation means, Fea also attempted to define Christianity in terms of orthodoxy (basic doctrines that Christian denominations such as the trinity, belief in the Bible, sin and conversion) and orthopraxy (right practice of Christ’s teachings.)

Fea outlined the history of the idea of America as a Christian nation.  I am not summarizing it in its entirety other than to highlight a couple of points.  Both conservative evangelicals and liberal Protestants have had versions of America as a Christian nation.  While many liberal Protestants act as if they have never put forth the idea, history shows that they have.  In my opinion, the Religious Left is still putting forth its ideas of what America as a Christian nation should be according to their understanding of Christianity.  Conservative evangelicals dropped off the radar from the 1920s-1970s, but they have always been a part of the debate in some way.  During their exile from the public square, they focused on evangelism and education, thus unintentionally preparing themselves for a return to the public square.

According to Fea, Americans between the time of the framing of the Constitution and the Civil War understood themselves as a Christian nation.  Fea wrote that America became the most evangelical country on the face of the earth.  Most early histories of the United States described it in terms of being a Christian nation.  Many biographers reframed the lives of the founders to make them sound like orthodox, evangelical Christians.  During the Civil War, both sides of the conflict framed their sides as carrying on the idea of America’s Christian heritage.  After the Civil War, evangelicals and liberals divided in their views of what America as a Christian nation meant, but both continued to speak of America as a Christian nation.  Liberals dominated the public square after 1925 until around 1980 when evangelicals returned.  Fea also briefly described the Roman Catholic view of America as a Christian nation.  From Fea’s book, one can see that there have been different versions of the idea of America as a Christian nation.   However, the prominent assumption of the American public appears to have been that it was Christian.  In fact, in 1885, in the case of Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, the Supreme Court formally declared that the United States is a Christian nation.  Fea concluded this section about this court ruling, “While the United States should never be perceived of a “Christian nation” in any formal or official sense, it was certainly a “Christian nation” in terms of culture and history.”

In  Chapter Four, Fea discussed the modern proponents of the idea of America as a Christian nation characterized mostly as being social conservative, evangelical protestants.  He suggested that they have five central themes that he used as an outline for much of the rest of the book.

  1. “God is sovereign over history. God has acted providentially to shape the course of human affairs, and he has a special destiny for the United States that can be accurately discerned and explained by historians.”
  2. “The seventeenth-century settlement of the American colonies should be interpreted in light of the eighteenth-century American Revolution.”
  3. “Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the U.S. Constitution were men of deep Christian faith.”
  4. “The Constitution of the United States is a Christian document, rooted in biblical and theological truth.”
  5. “Historical revisionism, especially as it relates to school textbooks, is irresponsible and dangerous.  Revisionists, they argue, have removed Christianity from the stories of the nation’s past taught to Children in public schools.”

In part two, I will review the section of the book where Fea deals with these themes.  Part 2 will appear on Monday.  Part 3 will appear on Wednesday.