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Friday, April 10, 2009

Is the United States a Christian Nation


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Christian.mp3

The News: President Obama made the following statement at a press conference in Turkey,

“One of the great strengths of the United States is ... although we have a very large Christian population -- we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” [1]

So to the question on the table, is the United States a Christian nation? Oddly enough, this is a question that even we Christians have to ask about our own Christian communities: Is this or that particular Church a Christian Church? Christian reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, wondered if the Roman Catholic Church was a Christian Church. By the way, the Roman Catholic Church wondered the same thing about Calvin and Luther. Today in the protestant community, you will hear homosexual pastors of some denomination argue that the bible is a collection of cool stories (not to be interpreted literally), so we must not take too seriously the teaching of Scriptures that says homosexuality is wrong.[2] Also there is, the “Open Theist” movement, in which there is a belief that since mankind has free will then God can be wrong about the future.[3] And so as Christians we ask ourselves, are these groups (or denominations) Christian and if they are not, what is the standard for verifying their lack of Christian credentials?

Now I believe that in answering the question, are we a Christian nation, we must apply the same standard that Christians apply in verifying a group’s Christian credentials. I say this because Christianity (like many other terms) find their true meaning by looking at what they meant historically, because the true meaning of the term Christianity is historically qualified within the Christian Church. In other words, I would not look to Marxism or Communism for the definition of a Christian.

What then defines a Christian, whether it be a Church, country or person? May I suggest that at least four ingredients are necessary for such a declaration?

1. One must believe in the inerrancy of the 66 books of scriptures.
2. One must believe that these 66 books are the inspired words of God.
3. One must believe that Jesus Christ is the Only Son of God and that He is the sufficient and only savior of mankind.[4]
4. One must believingly submit (from the heart) to ingredients 1, 2 and 3.

If any ingredient is missing, then I suggest that you are not dealing with a Christian Church, group or person, or country for that matter. Now before we do our analysis, allow me to suggest one more thing. It is insufficient, foolish and ultimately unfruitful (in the case of defining a group) to define that group by the individual testimony of its members. Instead, what we must do is look at the official declarations of that group. In the case of the Church, we must consider the Scriptures alone and in the case of our country, we must consider our Constitution. Accordingly, a University with a student body made up of mostly Jews is not necessarily a Jewish university unless it says so in the school’s charter; after all, a school’s location could account for its large Jewish population.

Now upon reading the constitution of the United States (which I did), I found no declaration of the inerrancy of scriptures. I found nothing about our country being bound to Holy Scriptures and I found nothing even beginning to resemble a declaration of our country’s submission to Jesus as lord over us. We do find that these Christian principles governed the lives of most of the Framers but we do not find that fact expressed in our constitution. Indeed, our constitution was informed by the Framer’s Christian worldview, even though they stopped short of creating a Christian Nation. It is not as if the Framers scratched off Holy Scriptures and wrote United States Constitution. Moreover, I defy anyone to show me that the United States constitution was intended to be a summary of the Bible in the same way a Church’s Confession of faith is.

I wished the framers were more candid about their Christian worldview as they penned the Constitution. I wished they included the Lordship of Christ over this country. They did not and so I am led to the inescapable and disappointing conclusion that Obama may have been right about this one. But he is right only within the narrow scope of his conclusion that this is not a Christian nation. The fact still remains that the set of values he alluded to that binds us as a country, are indeed Christian values even if the President doesn’t think so.

Danian Michael,
Political Agenda.


Footnotes:

[1] I found the quotation on The Huffington Post website (www.huffingtonpost.com)

[2] Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopalian Church, accounts a conversation he had with Archbishop of Canterbury that the Bible is basically subjectively qualified based on your own interpretation. Basically; the Bible is what you make it. To read his comments follow the following link: (http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/2009/03/gene_robinson.html)

[3] (“No other God: A response to open theism” by John Frame) John Frame answers some of the main claims of the open Theist for example: Since mankind has free will God can be wrong in His prediction of the future.

[4] The puritan William Gouge (1575-1653) in his commentary on the book of Hebrews said the following, “The main point which is aimed at throughout the whole sacred Scripture, especially in the New Testament, is the principal scope of this epistle, and the mark whereat the apostle aimeth therein, namely this, that Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient and only Saviour of man.”

14 Comments:

Anonymous jdm said...

I agree with you that this is not a "Christian nation." We have a secular republic founded by a mixture of Christians and Deists, most of whom lived lives informed by the ideas of Jesus. But I disagree with your definition of "Christian." I think one can define what Christianity means in one's own life. But it presumptuous to suggest that one can define that for other people. If someone tells me he/she is a Christian, I don't judge the validity of that based on a theological litmus test.

April 10, 2009 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

JDM,

First I want to say thank you for taking the time to not only read my article but for also responding.

So you and I have a very precarious agreement on the fact that this is not a Christian nation. You disagree with me on the application of a litmus test and on the standard of the test itself. But may I suggest that not only is it right to apply a standard in defining Christianity but that it is also unavoidable. You did it when you declared the United States to be a non-Christian nation. I assume you weren't just being arbitrary and that you had some reason for your conclusion. By the way, most Americans believe this is a Cristian nation. Wouldn't that fact make us a Christian Nation by your own standard? If being a Christian is a simple as declaring one's self to be a Christian, no mater what you believe then I hereby declare that everyone in this world is a Christian. I know you don't believe that; I don't think you believe a Muslim can legitimately call himself a Christian while holding on to his Muslim commitments. That Muslim would have to abandon certain beliefs and adapt certain beliefs. Now you and I can argue about what those beliefs should be, I suggested 4 main ones. I just don't know where else you would go to find out who God considers a Christian apart from what God's has said. And the only reliable source I know for God's word is Holy scriptures; Theology after all literally means God's speech.

You are right, we should not judge the heart of others but no one should just arbitrarily declare themselves a Christian.

April 11, 2009 at 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JDM Wrote:

This is not a Christian nation because it was never set up to be one. The Founders could easily have stated that the nation considers itself to be part of "Christ's dominion." But they didn't. And today, only the most far-out radicals believe that civil courts should consider "Biblical case law" or Mosaic "legislation" when deciding legal cases. ... Our law has its roots in British Common Law, not the Bible. Christian "law" can be applied by people as a guide for living their lives, but cannot be enforced by the state. That alone shows that what we have here is a secular state in which most people just happen to be Christians. (And yes, I k now that there is some overlapping principles in all legal and moral codes. But, the fact that our civil code has some similarities with certain Biblical laws does not mean that those laws were derived from the Bible.)

I also stand by my original comment. I do not presume to define what Christianity means to other people. I also don't presume to know the nature or will of God in any definitive way. I don't think those things are knowable unless one "dumbs down" the idea of God -- in a huge way. But, even if "true" Christianity can be defined, I would... Read More not use the narrow definition you use in your article. That kind of strict fundamentalism just does not ring true to me.

Could one be a Muslim and a Christian? Sure, why not? I could envision a person who attempts to reconcile the essential truths common to both religions and attempts to be true to both. Is such a person likely to exist? Probably not. If one did exist, he/she would have to be a very free-thinking follower of both faiths. But such a hybrid faith seems plausible.

April 11, 2009 at 11:44 PM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

Hello JDM,

Let me reiterate the fact that you and I agree this is NOT a Christian Nation so Part A of your rebuttal was unnecessary, albeit interesting. I want to talk about our disagreements.

You said, “But, the fact that our civil codes have some similarity biblical laws does not mean those laws were derived from the bible.” Again, if you go back and re-read my article you will notice that I said, “I defy anyone to show me that the Constitution was intended as a summary of scriptures…” However, one fact is undeniable (you can go read the letters of the Framers), it was a Christian worldview that informed the construction of the constitution. For example, our Government has many checks and balances because the Frames believed the Bible taught that mankind is inherently sinful. That fact is beyond contestation. (continue)

You also said that my brand of fundamentalism does not ring true to you after all, who am I to set such a narrow standard for what constitutes a Christian (forgive my paraphrasing). James about all you have said is this, I don’t like your standard so it isn’t true (or does not ring true). Now your statement would make sense if your implicit assumption was that if I don’t like something then it isn’t true. But of course that would be rather childish (with all due respect); like the child who covers his face and says to his parents, “I don’t like you so you don’t exist.” James I must ask, “What does your not liking my standard have to do with its truth or falsity? May I suggest that your statement has no relevance here (I say this with all due respect James).

Finally, you suggested that a person could indeed be a Muslim and a Christian. What you are describing philosophically speaking is relativism; this is shaky (at best) philosophical ground. One can not hold to “A” and “NOT A.” You can not at the same time believe that Jesus is the son of God (central to Christianity) and that Jesus is not the son of God (a central refutation of Christianity by Muslims). The person you are describing is a confused human being.

April 11, 2009 at 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From JDM,

One can easily believe in the tenets of Jesus' philosophy while also doubting that Jesus was literally a divine being. Such a person would be "Christian" in the sense that a psychiatrist who agrees with Freud is a Freudian. An economist could be a Keynesian without believing that Keynes was God and could even feel free to borrow ideas from Friedman.

It is possible to embrace many "isms" without taking a position on the divinity of the originator of the ideas. And in many cases, people who call themselves Christian are not necessarily believers in the divinity of Christ or admit that they just don't know. You would call such people non-Christians. I would not.

Likewise, there are things that one could get out of attending a Mosque and reading the Koran -- even if one does not literally buy into the whole "Mohammad was the prophet of God" thing.... Read More

It was in that sense that I meant that one could consider one's self to be a follower of both Christianity and Islam.

You said that, in order to be Christian, one needs to believe that 100% of the Bible is without error (even, I presume, the parts that contradict other parts) and that all 66 books are the word of God. I find that a pretty narrow because, as you know, there is dispute in the Christian community over which books even belong in the Bible... Read More (hence, the differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant versions). The whole collection of books was compiled in the 4th century by a bunch of people who made their own judgments. But they were, after all, people.

You also say that one has to believe that Jesus is the only son of God and the only path to salvation. But I honestly don't think God calls on us to pass judgment on the faith of others in that way.

You can call all that childish if you like. But I don't think resorting to name-calling is appropriate in what has been an otherwise respectful discussion.

Another thing: It's pretty clear that the Founding Fathers were all over the map theologically. Nobody would have called Jefferson a fundamentalist Christian. In fact, many took him to be downright ungodly. Likewise, George Washington was known to be more comfortable in a Masonic lodge than in a church. Sure, the Christian world view was important to the American Revolution. But, so were the ideas of the Enlightenment.

JDM

April 12, 2009 at 9:30 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Grove said...

I agree that the set of values the President alluded to (that bind us as a country) are essentially Christian values.

I don't think the statement: "even if the President doesn’t think so" is even relevant here.

The President's point seems simple and straight forward, IMO: we are not composed exclusively of people who identify as "Christian".

Yeah, okay, we know that. But face it - whether Christian (all kinds, not just the ones who fit one subset's specific "criteria"), Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc - so many of us (of different faiths) ARE bound by the very same ideals and values: To love and respect others. Honor our family. To uphold truth and justice. I could go on and on here, you get my point.

Getting hung up on the words and specifics only gives some people the opportunity to cast others out. It only creates more divisiveness and really detracts from the magnitude of the actual message of Christ and the good that we are really capable of doing here.

Creating divisiveness - that is real "sin" in my opinion (missing the mark - missing the WHOLE POINT of Jesus Christ's existence and message to us).

There IS a place for "healthy debate" on these ideas, obviously. And then there is debate that is a cleverly cloaked means to effectively prove oneself "right", for the sake of satisfying one's own ego and out of a selfish desire for personal certainty.

If this blog post, and the resulting comments, are about determining who "fits" into one limited group's interpretation of "who should get to fit" into the definition of a Christian... well, how does creating divisions and creating all this pseudo-debate fit into anything truly Christian? I mean, really?

I'm sure we could "craft" something that would seem to fit - by piecing words together very precisely into limited definitions, working around all the loop holes. But really.

You've talked about what you challenge and "defy" others to do. (Sigh.) My challenge to you would be to consider actually stepping up and serving Christ. I mean for real, in action. Like via spreading love! As opposed to waging a gentle almost "under cover" war cloaked as "intellectual debate"... spreading subtle negativity and cloaked hate.

There's nothing Christ-like about wolves in sheep's clothing.

April 13, 2009 at 3:44 AM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

Sarah

Let me first thank you for taking the time to read my article and for taking the time to write such a passionate response.

I must say Sarah, that I am completely baffled by your anger towards me; calling me a wolf in sheep’s clothing and an ego maniac for example. You have accused me of not serving Christ, of spreading hate, and of being two-faced and selfish. All of which I can handle; this after all is the nature of public conversations.

For your own peace of mind however, you should ask yourself, why am I so angry at this man? If you believe I’m all the things you accuse me of, then show me the right way by a kinder example. My article was focused solely on the United States; is this a Christian nation? I didn’t call anyone a wolf in sheep’s clothing; I didn’t accuse anyone of spreading hate nor was I spreading hate. I did not call anyone two-faced or selfish, as a matter of fact, you will not find one personal attack in my article and you certainly won’t find me accusing anyone of not being a Christian. So I must ask, and you should ask yourself, what is the source of all this anger, especially towards me?

Moreover, your response to my article is riddled with self-contradiction, consider these two:

1. You are angry at me for proposing a standard by which people can examine Christians or their own Christianity; it is divisive and helps to spread hate. And yet you call my actions un-Christian in effect casting me out. You accuse me of completely missing the message of Christ. So I am not allowed to apply a standard but you are?
2. Let me again start by saying, Sarah I appreciate your comments and the fact that you visited my website, read the article and responded. That means a lot to me and I hope you continue to do so. But I have to ask, why did you respond to me? If you believe that I should not judge people I disagree with (I am not doing that but you believe that I am judging people I disagree with) then why are you judging me with such prejudice. Don’t get me wrong, I want you to speak out and I welcome your opposition, I just think you are being rather inconsistent in how you are applying your views. For example, saying I should not speak out in a letter speaking out against me.

Like the Bible says, heal thyself (a paraphrase of Matthew 7:3)

I have one last request, for clarity please do not use any short hand writing, or at the very least define it once. What does IMO means?

Hope to hear from you again Sarah

April 13, 2009 at 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Danian,

I can definitely see where the nerves may have been pinched. Unfortunately, by the definition prescribed there was no evidence to support the characterization of this country as Christian. Here's a question, that perhaps may have been asked before by your listeners and/or subscribers: By the same scale is Jamaica a Christian nation, is China Buddhist, and Oman Islamic? I'm curious to learn your response.

Cheers,

April 13, 2009 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

Anonymous,

China is an easy one, they are not Buddhist, in fact there is an antagonistic relationship between the Chinese government and the Buddhist movement. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman (and I have been to Oman) have declared the Koran and Islam the standard by which the country will be governed. As a theocracy I would say they are Islamic.

April 13, 2009 at 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Grove said...

Oh my gosh, sorry! IMO = In my opinion. Sorry for the short hand.

I'm not sure how to reply to the rest of your response and your questions regarding anger.

The emotions behind my words are more matter-of-fact. Serious and decided, yes. But matter-of-fact. And I'm not coming from a place of anger. I'm not angry with you, really.

My point was to say, "Really? Are you serious?" And "that's not cool". And to explain why I feel that way.

IMO, I think it does seem that you're spreading negativity in the name of Christ - in the form of creating argument and division for the sake of argument and division. And not for the sake of Christ or Christianity and the good of it. That's what it seems like, and "feels" like to me. I could be wrong, it's just a feeling. While I don't feel passionately angry towards you, and I don't want to "duke it out', I do feel a sense of "hey man, that's really not cool, is it?"

It's just how I see things.

The important thing, I think, is for each of us to decide for ourselves if we really believe we are helping others, and the world (contributing to the betterment of the world and other human's lives and spirits). Or if we're hurting others and the world, even in subtle ways. Maybe I'm spreading negativity by speaking my "hey that's not cool" opinion. I don't know. But I think that's a more relevant question for me to ask myself (about myself) than why I am "so angry at this man". Being a Christian begins with each one of us, in our hearts, the thoughts we think, the words we speak, our actions, our works.

It's hard. It is my belief that I/we need to focus on ourselves and the spirit we're bringing to the world and our interactions. Words create actions and realities, in our hearts and in the outside physical world. I need to examine myself and my own heart, and words, and what I'm inspiring and creating, as much as any other human being, obviously. At the same time, I believe that we need to be willing to say "hey that's not cool!" when we really believe in our hearts that something's not cool.

WWJD? Seriously.

(Do I need to explain that shorthand? I'm just joking!)

Maybe this at least addresses your question of "why did I respond".

I do beleive we need more love in the world, and that we each have it in us to spread the light and love. And that we each make a choice in each moment of what spirit we're going to bring to our interactins and to the world. Maybe I didn't do that (spread the light) with my reply necessarily. Oh, I really don't know!

But like the Bible says in the quote you paraphrased from Matthew, "Heal thyself" - I think that's such an important sentiment precisely because it seems to be human nature for each of us to think that we are so justified in speaking out, but when someone else speaks out against our words and actions, we tend to view them as "broken", or "unreasonably angry" or having some unresolved thing going on inside of them. Versus considering that they just might really have good intentions and want to see more light and love in the world, and do their part. Maybe I did that to you. Maybe you did it back to me. I think it's human nature. Which we also know is very different from God-nature or Christ-nature.

April 13, 2009 at 5:22 PM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

Sarah,

Thank you, I like your tone here. You had conviction you were firm but you were gracious. Perhaps this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

I chose this topic not because I wanted to stir the pot, but because the President commented on our status as a Christian Nation and Newsweek made Christian America their lead story. This had become a controversy and not of my doing. This was a topic worthy of my attention, worthy of all our attention. If we could come to some understanding as Americans, I doubt we would be this divided, at the very least, we would be less divided; that's my motivation.

You said many things I agreed with; for example not judging the heart of people and doing honest self examination; Amen to all of that Sarah. When I was writing this article I was very aware of these Christian principles (believe it or not Sarah, I do try to be a good Christian man) that is why I limited my focus to the country and stayed away from the personal angle (although, as I would freely admit, the personal angle is implied).

Let me offer you a glimpse into my thought process:

I don't think there is anything necessarily divisive or evil in identifying different species. I am a man and you are a woman. There, I said it, am I being divisive? There is a certain minimum requirement that must be satisfied for someone to be a woman or a man. It really is a simple as that for me; some people are Christian and some people are not. I am not making any moral judgments in either case, man/woman or Christian/non-Christian.

Do you now see where I'm coming from?

April 13, 2009 at 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Grove said...

I don't know that the gender thing is a viable analogy here . Or not the way that you are stating it.

I think that, in reality, what you are doing is not as innocent as merely stating that you are a man and I am a woman.

Me saying that probably sounds divisive. I'm not sure how else to put it though! I feel that you're kind of minimizing the real truth of what you were really getting at in your initial post.

What you have said about fellow Christians is more akin, I believe, to.. if I were a man. Okay, pretend I'm a man. And then I declare that you are NOT a man - because you don't adhere to my criteria. Because according to the rules of the game a man is someone who wears a tie every day and takes the garbage out, as part of the "minimum requirement". And let's say you don't wear a tie every day or you don't take out the garbage (or whatever other particulars I declare would entitle you to consider YOURSELF a man.) So therefore, watch out people - you are not dealing with a man here! I'm a man. But you are not.

Do you know what I mean?

I don't really think that about you. It's just an analogy.

My view is that labeling, itself, is not divisive. Being divisive is divisive.

Because you know that being a man involves much more than putting on a tie and taking the garbage can to the curb. Even when you don't have a tie on, or when your wife takes out the trash, you still know in your heart and mind that you are very clearly a man. Don't you? It's not even really a question, is it?

Why would someone else (particularly a fellow man) need to point out to you that he qualifies to call himself a man, but you do not qualify to go around calling yourself a man the way that he does.

Is he just innocently identifying the differences between you and him? By telling you what YOU are (or are not)?

Do you see now where I am coming from?

I'm not addressing all your points. I'm also not the most concise or clear writer, I apologize. But I do hear you on a lot of the other stuff you said - and your reason for addressing the article in the first place.

April 13, 2009 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

Sarah,

I understand your analogy, but I think it is based on how sensitive we have become as a people. You can't say anything anymore without offending the whole country. Well I for one will not facilitate the thinning of the skins of Americans. Your whole analogy was based on the fact that people are sensitive; I understood it (your analogy) but it didn't work for me because I would not be offended by not being called a man, or a conservative or a Christian for that matter. Instead I would calmly look at the merit of the case and if there is no merit then I would move on with my life.

People need to remember that they are not owed a bed of roses in this life. For example, the President of my country has a worldview that is diametrically opposed to my own, so what should I do; walk around being offended all the time? No, I refuse to live like that.

In my heart I was not trying to be offensive and if people are offended by my work, may I suggest that fact does not change the nature of my intentions.

I'll give you the last word Sarah.

April 15, 2009 at 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Sarah Grove said...

Hey thanks for the last word! :)

I will try to make it good! But as I've said before, I'm not the most concise or eloquent writer. So please bear with my wordiness and repetition.

Listen, I think my entire point and position has been missed.

In my opinion, it's not about avoiding "offending" people. I agree too, that people are not owed a "bed of roses". Definitely!

But offense and not hurting feelings are not the point.

In your heart you knew you were not trying to be offensive. I get that. But the thing is, I don't think you were offensive. I just think you were off-base and that the things you were saying about other Christians are not true, and also not helpful to the cause. And also that they SEEM divisive for the sake of being divisive - and therefore not productive, and maybe even counterproductive. (Untrue and unproductive are so very different from "offensive").

Respect for others and doing the work of/for Christ is not an effort to baby people or pander to their "over-sensitivity". It's an effort to build love and a strong human community. To build respect - for others... and respect for reality too. Which I know is subjective (respect for reality, when everyone's reality is so different). But in so many ways, we each contribute to our collective reality here, based on the sentiments we choose to promote. (We choose what we want to promote: Love and connection. Vs. annoyance and division.)

When I asked why a man would feel the NEED to point out to you he is a man and you are not... well like you said, it would not offend you that he said that. Understood. Honestly, I would not expect that it would offend you. That's not my point. I'm not saying he shouldn't initiate a pronouncment like that because he would offend you or ruffle your feathers.

I'm saying that it would be an untrue an dillusional assertion. And also could POSSIBLY be coming from a place in him that seeks out division and argument.

My point is that we can each decide if we want to bring people together, find the commonalities and promote love, peace and create good things. Or if we want to promote negativity, argument and spend our lives pointing out where everyone else is wrong.

Maybe I'm promoting division and negativity by even bringing all this up. I don't know. That's a weird thing too. I mean, I believe that it's not a good thing to go around all day dividing people. But you'd probably agree with me that we have a responsibility to stand up for what we believe in. So I don't know...

My point is: IMO, it's not about walking on eggshells or trying not to "offend".

It's about doing the work of Christ, bringing people together, and creating love and beauty in this world. Together. Not in some pansy way that caters to people's sensitivity. But in a way that caters (in the good way - the BIG way) to love, respect, and the reality of our lives here on Earth as Christian (and non-Christian) brothers and sisters.

IMO, it's about bringing people together and building on what's good, versus focusing on what divides us apart from one another. Focusing on what divides creates more division and separation. From one another and from God.

April 15, 2009 at 12:07 PM  

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