Christianity Today just asked a really interesting question – “Was the U.S. never really a “Christian country,” or was US Christianity corrupted by politics?” If you’ve read much of my stuff, you likely realize I say that with our entangling of religion and government, we’ve never been a truly Christian country. It’s just not possible when we mix politics and religion. Given my own stance, it will be interesting to see what CT has to say on this question.
With a mix of
politics and religion
was the U.S. ever a
The Christianity Today article is titled How American Evangelicals Lost Credibility with the Global Church. Just the title gives away the conclusion. American Evangelical Christians have lost credibility with the Global Church. Personally, I go further than that. I feel like American Evangelicals have lost credibility with many non-Evangelical Christians even in the U.S.
Maybe even worse, I feel like much of what’s gone on over the last five years here, with Evangelical and Donald Trump, has caused Christianity in general to suffer a lack of credibility in the country across the board. Regardless of what group of people we’re talking about – non-Evangelical Christians, spiritual but not religious, so-called “nones”, Etc. The apparent devotion to Trump makes many of us look at the Trump Evangelicals as putting him above Jesus. That’s not at all Christian. And it’s not good. It’s not loving. And it’s certainly against the commandment to not have anything or anyone above God.
Unfortunately, you cannot read the entire article without a subscription, but the link I gave above will allow you to read the first portion. Having said that, there was one very telling question and answer sequence that I want to present here.
CT asks – Was the U.S. never really a Christian country?
Do you think that the last four years has hurt the credibility of the American evangelical church? And if so, in what ways?
Rene Breuel: Yes, I’m sorry to say, but I think in part it has, though of course, it’s not a blanket statement. We can see nuances and they may be people who did not support Trump or voted for him reluctantly, the tough spot people of faith find themselves in a two-party system. But people being vocal, like Black Christians being vocal, was very helpful.
I think the issue is more than just a two-party system in this country. Even if there were 5 or 6 parties, there’s still compromise that must take place. Compromise between whichever minority parties are selected to try to assemble a government. For example, this kind of thing happens in Israel. Then, even if there somehow managed to be a party that really campaigned on truly Christian principles – which I don’t believe is possible – compromise is still necessary with at least one party who did not run on Christian principles.
It’s a situation that’s just unavoidable. And while things may be worse than ever today, it really brings up the question – Was the U.S. never really a Christian country?
Two masters – God and politics
The real problem though, comes up when we remember what Jesus said about two masters.
6:22, 23 pp — Lk 11:34-36
Mt 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Mt 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Just like we cannot serve God and money, we also cannot serve God and politics. As I’ve pointed out before, the two are in conflict with each other.
1Sa 8:1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
1Sa 8:4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
1Sa 8:6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
1Sa 8:10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day. ”
1Sa 8:19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
1Sa 8:21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.”
People rejected God as our King long ago. And we’re still paying the price today. No entanglement of religion and politics can fix that problem. Once again, the question rears its head – Was the U.S. never really a Christian country?
If the U.S. is not a Christian country, do we have any moral authority?
There is a feeling that the American evangelical church, at least in the past four years, lost part of its moral authority and spiritual leadership. Too many leaders, unfortunately, supported Trump noncritically, too many churchgoers supported Trump joyfully, and then too many prophets in the charismatic movement predicted a second term, which did not come to pass.
Absolutely true! And in the process, we forget – or never knew – what we were warned about in Malachi.
Mal 2:17 You have wearied the LORD with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
Mal 3:1 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
Mal 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Mal 3:5 “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.
I realize this says the Day of Judgment. However, for each one of us, whether that day comes during our lifetime or later – what we do right now is what we’ll be judged on. Our choices, including the ones we make between God and our politics, they matter. If not to us, certainly to God.
There are two other things it would behoove us to remember. First, Jesus did speak to the items in Mal 3:5. However, He never went to the Roman government to push for religious freedom! No matter how important we make think it is today, Jesus actually told us that people would hate us because we believe in Him. But today, many people hate us, not because of our beliefs, but because we try to legally force our beliefs down their throats. That is not what the Great Commission is about. Not even close.
Can the U.S. be a Christian country when we mix politics and religion so much?
I sense that people are clear on the gospel of Christ, the cross and repentance, and faith in the new birth, but when it comes to the church’s relation to society, I think there’s something which will be helpful to think a little bit more about, like to what extent should we get involved in politics? How can we conceive of a public sphere in ways that are not political, trying to seek the common good without falling into partisanship? I think these are some key questions which of course I’ve been asked in the United States and people around the world as well.
As we can see, movements like that can happen and are happening in other countries. How we can be more nuanced and more thoughtful when it comes to supporting parties and candidates? Even with sharing some policy platforms, we can try to be a little bit more thoughtful about that.
No one ever said being a Christian is easy. If anything, it’s not supposed to be easy. Remember, we are to be in the world, but not of the world. We will be hated. However, there’s being hated for the right reason and being hated for the wrong reason.
Too often, especially in the Trump world, that hatred comes for the wrong reasons. In fact, the hatred stems from Trump to his followers (including his Christian followers) our to the recipients of all that hatred. That’s exactly the opposite of what we were taught by Jesus.
Love for Enemies
Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
There’s no room for hatred. I wonder, is the hatred now more than it’s ever been before? I honestly don’t know. But given the tendencies of fallen people, I also wonder, Was the U.S. ever really a Christian country?
I get it – it’s hard. But we really should at least try. And no matter what we might think inside our heads, the perception of Evangelical Christians around the world is not a good one. It goes to motives. It goes to what’s in the heart. And it’s just not good.
Consider the passage below.
1Co 10:23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
1Co 10:25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
1Co 10:27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake— 29 the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
1Co 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Honestly, there is no political party anywhere in the world that truly lives up to what we should be as Christians. Which yet again brings us to that question – Was the U.S. ever really a Christian country?
Yes, we have freedom as Christians. But we also have a responsibility. More than one.
One of them is, hopefully, to God. Everything we do should be to bring glory to Him. That’s a problem when it comes to politics. So we need to be very careful about it. Since no one candidate or office-holder is perfect – none of them deserve our full support for everything. When we fail to recognize that, or when we do recognize it but choose to ignore it, we fail to bring glory to God.
However, we also fall into the second area of responsibility. That one is to other Christians. When we give undying support to any person (other than Jesus, who’s also God), we can so easily cause others to stumble. Maybe we even stumble ourselves because we watch some other Christian doing that. Ultimately though, it’s wrong. If not in actuality, it certainly appears to others as if someone is bowing down to the person, especially with Trump, as if he’s a god. A false idol. Looking to him instead of God. Looking to him to help God – as if that was even possible. And yet, that is the appearance.
Conclusion – Was the U.S. never really a Christian country?
Sorry, I’m really not old enough to know the answer. Only God does. But maybe the more important question for us, as Christians, how are we to go about making the U.S. a Christian country? From what the Bible says, it’s not by mixing Christianity and politics. It’s by just being Christians.
People will see us. See something in us. Something they want to have. And then we have the opportunity to talk to them. That’s what we’re taught. Nowhere in the words of Jesus, or in the explanations that come with the other books in the New Testament, are we ever told to go the legal route and force our beliefs on anyone else. That’s not Christian. And to the extent we insist on doing that – forcing our religion through legal channels – the U.S. never will be a Christian nation. It’s just not Jesus’ way.