17”Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:17-21)
Literalism, Nationalism, and Politicism: The struggle of Christianity in the United States.
Did Christendom make Christians dumb?
Part 2 - Nationalism
The intersection of Christianity and Nationalism has always been a bit of a complicated subject to discuss in the United States because of significant inconsistencies between what the U.S. Constitution says; the first amendment in particular; and what many self-proclaimed Christians tend to believe and actually practice when it comes to their day to day citizenship.
I think it fair to say that the very heart and root of the problem can be summed up in the phrase that is commonly repeated within various circles of Christianity; the phrase:
“America is a Christian Nation!”
Before looking at the various errors in such a statement, let us first consider all the things that quite often lead people to this conclusion.
1. There is a strong held belief that the Founding Fathers were all Bible toting, God-fearing, Christian believers.
2.The national motto of the United States, also printed on all of our money, is, “In God We Trust.”
3. The Pledge of Allegiance includes the words, “One Nation under God.”
4. Almost every U.S. president has been a self-professed Christian. Notable exceptions are Abraham Lincoln (possibly a Theist or Rationalist) and Thomas Jefferson (a self-proclaimed deist who rejected the Triune nature of God and the divinity of Christ).
5. Jesus was an American! (Okay, I admit that this is just a little joke by me - but considering how some people act, it’s as if they really seem to believe this – TV preachers and politicians especially).
Now let’s examine the background or history of these statements.
1. The founding fathers, many by their own published writings, would not fit under the category of Christian due to many beliefs at direct odds with Trinitarian Orthodox Christianity. That many of them believed in a god (deism) is very true, but several (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, Madison) either denied Jesus’ divinity, the triune God, or Jesus’ Messiahship, and this typically puts one well outside of the faith of Christendom. (Note – the modern push to Christianize all the founding fathers is often lead by Evangelicals, not historians and researchers).
2. While it is true that the motto of the U.S. and the same motto printed on our money states, “In God We Trust” there are some things to note.
a. While the motto had shown up on coinage during the Civil War thanks to the direction of a Pennsylvania minister, the motto of the US, and its official placement on paper currency, did not become officially recognized until July 30, 1956 when President Eisenhower signed it into law as a reaction to the Cold War and fear of “Godless Communism.”
b. Also to be found on U.S. currency are the deistic religious symbols of the Egyptian pyramid and the “All Seeing Eye.”
3. The words, “One Nation under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954 (Flag Day) by President Eisenhower. Though the actual Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Baptist minister in 1892, there was no reference to God at all in its original form.
(“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”)
That the majority of Presidents elected were self-professing Christians in a nation predominately populated by Christians of various stripes should be of no real surprise.
In putting all this together, the point is that America was not designed as a specifically Christian Nation; instead it is a nation that is made up of people’s from various tribes, languages, faiths, and creeds. While there are those who argue that the founding fathers implied Christianity as the religion of the new world, nevertheless neither the Bill of Rights nor the rest of the U.S. Constitution posits Christianity as the religion of the land, but instead protects the free practice of all religion.
The modern push to incorporate the language of “God” into the Pledge and onto U.S. Currency is noble in its respect to a belief in a divine creator, but is by no means a specifically Christian idea. Likewise the use of the Bible to swear upon during court proceedings or the placing of the Ten Commandments in courthouses is typically more connected to tradition (we’ve always done it this way) than to promoting religious expression. (Note: the Supreme Court has ordered Ten Commandment displays removed from government property on numerous occasions.)
In the end, one of the things I love most about this country is that it protects my religious freedom as a Christian, even as it protects the freedom of others who are not Christians.
Unfortunately, where I have often seen things get problematic is when well-meaning Christians seek to turn our democracy into a theocracy. Such Christians are convinced that a truly Christian nation can be created by legislation, and so they demand their own version of morality, they seek privilege and political power, and often without realizing it, become the new face of Caesar.
Likewise a problem can arise when people, who have bought into the notion of America as a Christian nation, begin to confuse priorities; offering their worship towards the symbols of the state and proclaim their allegiance to the country instead of the creator.
What happens when modern Christianity forgets that there is a difference between Caesar and God?
What happens when modern Christianity is “of the world” instead of “in the world?”
What happens is that we lose our identity as people of God. We worry more about consolidation of personal power, wealth, and fame, than reaching out to the needy or showing mercy to the neighbor. We forget that we are Christians first and Americans second; and instead confuse religious zealotry with patriotic fervor.
Jesus’ simple wisdom to “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” offers us the room to be both solid citizens and faithful believers. Yet it also helps us to recognize that there will be times when our Christian faith will challenge our national pride; and in such times may it be that we make the right decision - following after the Cross, in the footsteps of Christ.
Your brother in Christ,
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Rev. Michael Ware
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