If I asked everyone to give their opinion or belief as to whether or not America was founded on Christian principles or was founded as a Christian nation, there would likely be three distinct responses. Some would say, NO! That would be a categorical rejection of that idea. Others would say, ABSOLUTELY! That would also be an unequivocal affirmation. The third response would be, I Don’t Know, or something to that effect. There is a basis to argue from all viewpoints, however, my view is that America was highly influenced by the Bible and Christianity and most of the Founders and Framers believed the words of Solomon in Proverbs 14:34 – “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”
Those who insist categorically that America was not and is not a Christian nation do so from the view that our founders were far more guided by secular thought, self and state interests than the Bible or Christianity. They acknowledge that the Founders were religious but believe that they rejected many Christian doctrines because they were deists. The deist argument is one of the most prevalent in arguing against any Christian influence in our formation as a Republic. I don’t want to get into the minute of that argument but suffice it to say this argument believes that deism, not Christianity was the major influence in America’s founding.
On the other hand, those who contend that Christianity and the Bible were far more influential than any other documents and writings cite the many religious quotations of the Founders. If that position is taken too far it becomes, “Any quote by any founder supporting religion makes him an orthodox or evangelical Christian.” I don’t want to take a weak approach in my argument for America’s Christian Founding so let me proceed.
It is a factual reality that in 1776, every European American, except for about 2,500 Jews, identified themselves as being a Christian. At that time about 98 percent of the colonists were Protestants and the remaining 1.9 percent Roman Catholics. What kind of Christians were they? Where they committed to the principles and cause of Christ? Where they superficial in their following of the Christian teaching? There are those that argue, based on their denominational or doctrinal view that many were not Christians because of their personal failures or omissions such as church membership.
Some were influenced by deism, but the majority were heavily influenced by Christianity and the Bible. If you research history, you will find how difficult it was to become a member of the Calvinist churches in 18th century America. If the standard by which we judge whether these men were Christians or influenced by Christianity is ‘moral perfection’ there has never been a Christian. I would contend that Christianity was not the only influence on the Founders and the Framers of our American Constitution but it was a major influence.
Historically, it would be difficult to deny that the Puritans who colonized America were not serious Christians. Their desire and ambition were, in the words of Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop, to create “a shining city upon a hill” (a direct reference to Matthew 5:14). The Puritans separated the church and the state but believed that both should work in tandem to support, protect, and promote true Christianity. Were greed and the idea of personal gain involved in any colony? Of course, it was and that might have been the major influence or motivator for Jamestown.
How can we overlook those fabulous words in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The references to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” and the documents close by “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world” and noted that the signers were relying on “the protection of divine Providence.” How could one argue that does not ring of heavy influence by the Bible and Christianity? There were calls by our Founders to prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving issued by the Continental and Confederation Congresses.
How can we overlook the fact that although the Constitution says little about God or religion the hints are there that they viewed America as a Christian nation? Before you protest let me continue. What about the inclusion that a pocket veto occurs 10 days after a bill is passed by Congress, Sundays excepted? What about the directive of Article VI that prohibits religious tests for federal offices?
Barry Alan Shain in “The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought” makes a broad-stroked argument for the influence of Christianity on our Founders. He received support from Donald Lutz, who examined 15,000 pamphlets, articles, and books on political subjects published in the late 18th century. He concluded that the Bible was cited more than any other book, article, or pamphlet.
Let me borrow from the Heritage Foundations research and argument that although the Bible or Christianity is not mentioned in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, the Founders were influenced by both.
James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or internal controls on government would be necessary.” That understanding and Christian influence helped them steer away from utopian concepts. It helped them turn from what many Enlightenment Thinkers of that day supported, “a strong centralized government run by experts.” God deliver us from the so-called governmental experts of our day.
Also, they believed, as do I, that God has ordained moral standards and that all legislation must be made in accordance with those standards. In their writings, it is easy to discern that they believed that moral law took precedence over human laws. I also believe it is easy to ascertain their view of liberty was heavily influenced by Scripture and Christianity. Supreme Court Justice James Wilson said, “Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and become licentiousness.”
I’m sure this will upset some who do not believe in God or Creation, but our American Founders believed that human beings were created in the imago dei – the image of God. I am equally convinced that many of them were devotedly convinced that religious liberty was a prize and right that must be protected extensively. However, there were many who expressed their views that civil authorities should encourage Christianity.
If you choose to cite the 1947 Supreme Court Decision of ‘Everson v. Board of Education’ and argue that the Founders intended an impenetrable wall of separation between Church and State let me suggest a consideration. Consider the many Founders who made public statements and took governmental action to demonstrate their views were eons away from the modern view. They believed that Religious Liberty was a Right and had to be protected. I refer you to George Mason’s 1776 draft of Article XVI OF Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. “That as Religion, or the Duty which we owe to our divine and omnipotent Creator, and the Manner of discharging it, can be governed only by Reason and Conviction, not by Force or Violence; and therefore, that all Men should enjoy the fullest Toleration in the Exercise of Religion, according to the Dictates of Conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the Magistrate….”
James Madison did not like the use of the word toleration and contended that it implied that religious liberty was a grant from the state and could be revoked and had it reworded, “the free exercise of religion” is a right, not a privilege granted by the state. They also argued that religion belonged in the public square. I refer to Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. It is argued that Jefferson insisted on a wall so prohibitive that nothing of religion could be in the public square. However, if you research history you will find that Jefferson issued calls for prayer and fasting as Governor of Virginia. He even drafted bills allowing the governor to appoint “days of public fasting and humiliation, or thanksgiving” and to punish “Disturbers of Religious Worship and Sabbath Breakers.”
Jefferson suggested, as a member of the Continental Congress that the nation adopt a seal containing the image of Moses “extending his hand over the sea, causing it to overwhelm Pharaoh.” He included the motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The separation that bans anything religious from the public square won’t square with that. We could cite George Washington and his numerous references and appeals for focus on God both publicly and privately.
I believe that our Republic as a society and as a government has drifted from the founding principles. Our Founders believed it permissible and even encouraged the national and state governments to encourage Christianity. That may not be prudent today, but to ban the influence of God, Christianity, and the biblical moral virtues and principles from all things public is to invite problems we could avoid. Most of us would like to see an America where people are treated with respect and viewed as equal under the law. Most of us would like to see an America where our government allows us to enjoy Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness without undue influence, regulation or control.
I am not calling for Christianity to control the government or the government to attempt to control the Church. I am calling for all who believe and follow Christ to pray for this nation and pressure our elected officials to return to allowing states and communities to determine how much or how little of the Bible they want in their public sectors. I am calling for everyone who prays to pray for America and our leaders. I believe we were founded on Christian principles but also that our Founders wanted you to be free to worship or not worship as your heart dictates. I believe in America and I believe in God!
God bless you and God bless America!