Not Muslim or Anti-Muslim, Christian or Anti-Christian

What’s your reaction to President Obama’s recent statements to the Muslim world that “the United States is not, and never … Continued

What’s your reaction to President Obama’s recent statements to the Muslim world that “the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam” and that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation”?

When the legislature in Virginia in 1786, as it passed Thomas Jefferson’s bill of religious freedom, James Madison report, someone offered an amendment to insert the word “Jesus Christ” after the word “Lord.” It was defeated, not because the majority in the legislature did not revere Jesus Christ, but because they were honest about the present-day realities, far-seeing about the future of the republlic, and fair-minded. Jefferson saw that the rejection of the amendment was “proof” that the legislature “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and Geintile, the Christian and Mahomtan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

That judgment has served us well. Once or twice the Supreme Court, shall we say almost by accident, called this a Christian nation, but the many efforts to pass a “Christian Amendment to the Constitution” (and always failed) showed that the court’s slip was not an accurate or reasoned statement about the United States in intention or reality.

That the United States is not at war with Islam is a simple statement of fact. That’s it.

Whether it is a Christian nation is a question that demands some pondering. As a Christian, who celebrates contributions of Christians and their texts to positive features of national life (and who grieves over the negatives, such as the use of the Christian Bible o justify slavery and Indian-removal), I rejoice when the biblical calls to justice and mercy resonate and find response among citizens.

so far so good. But does that make it a Christian nation? Even if 99.9% or, to be on the safe side, 100% of the citizens “accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” there is still no way to translate that into ours being a Christian nation. For a first embarrassment, Jesus (whose title, the Anointed, the Messiah, Christ) gives the first syllable to Christian, in the founding documents of the faith, made emphatically clear that his kingdom is not of this world, and he would not let Herod or Pilate or the leaders of his own claim the nation or the nations.

Wherever the affirmation of Christian values is voluntary, a response to persuasion: fine. Wherever there is a hint of establishment or legal (and thus coercive) privileging, the act of naming corrupts state and church. It is used for exclusion; it’s “in your face.” “this nation belongs to us, and you are at best a guest and more likely a misfit, unwelcome.” The record of using a religious adjective to identify a nation or a polity, as it produced war, conflict, jealousy, bitterness, and reaction to the claims for the divine, ought to be clear. So it is good to have it reaffirmed: we are not as a nation a Christian nation. We are nation with a couple hundred million Christians, and if they live up to their charter in the gospels, they will be good and generous and free and value-rich citizens, who will contribute to the public good “in church and state”

Martin Marty
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  • Giggle1

    “Be ye not afraid. . .”But, “any nation that turns against Israel. . .” or “any Nation that forgets God . . .”May God have Mercy on our country and all our people. God is coming back and “every knee shall bow”He is a loving and forgiving God, but on that day he will be a God of Judgement & Wrath. Your Soul will spend eternity somewhere.

  • clintperry

    Martin, I like the thoughts.I blogged mine at

  • jamil51

    Islam is here on this planet for the last 1400 years. It is a practicing religion, not just based on Friday prayers or else rituals. Is this something new which came to light after 9/11 only?. Islam is a religion practiced by more than one billion people, no one can finish them by might or otherwise. You cannot win any war anywhere without the support of the people of the land, what ever their belief might be, in present day it is Islam so all the grudge for not winning is against Islam.

  • edbyronadams

    Mr. Marty’s position that the US government has no position on religion is factually correct. I wonder if he has ever considered the fact that this default secular position and its promulgation across the globe in movies and video is more offensive to the deeply religious than if we were propagating a Christian position.