This is a key question. It has been raised by two very public personalities. First, the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, who in 2006 declared, “Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation.” What he meant was that the nation is a diversified mix of religious faiths.
Television personality Bill Maher on the TV show “Politically Incorrect,” goes even farther, claiming, “America has never been a Christian Nation.” I do not agree with Mr. Maher about many things he says, but in this case he is correct, though maybe not for the reason he thinks. Consistent with his antireligious and antichristian stance, Maher intended to delegitimize Christianity. In reality America has never been a Christian nation in the sense of the church governing the country; nor has it ever had an established state religion, to which by law people were expected to adhere in every respect. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was close to being a state religion when in 1302 Pope Boniface VIII affirmed his authority over all spiritual and temporal powers, i.e. including kings. This lasted one month. A modern example of state religion does exist in Islamic areas where caliphates exercise Sharia law and other religions are not tolerated. In Scandinavia the Lutheran Church is installed as the “state church” or “people’s church,” but other faiths are tolerated.
The closest America ever got to a state religion was during the 17th and 18th centuries in Colonial America. Under British rule, the Anglican Church was the state-supported religion in the colonies. Had independence from England not been achieved, the state Anglican Church would have lasted longer. After the American Revolution, the Anglican faith morphed into the Episcopal faith, but it was prevented from being a national religion, because of the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, the Christian influence on America was significant because thousands of those early settlers were Christians, some fleeing from the persecution of their faith to find religious freedom in America.
The significance of the Christian influence on America will be dealt with in future posts but for now know that the Christian religion became embedded in early America. This fact aided America in becoming a nation founded on the Christian principles its earliest immigrants brought with them. These people knew their Creator and Savior. They built churches and allowed their lives to be driven by God’s laws, thus forming the basis of a great nation. To be sure if there had been no Christian faith to provide the root system for this young country, there would have been no America with the fundamental principles of freedom and justice we have today.
Lee Southard March 9, 2017