HANCOCK COUNTY — To the Fourth of July pitch-in, allow us to contribute some food for thought.
As many Americans celebrate the United States’ independence this weekend, some churches will make patriotic music and other flourishes part of Sunday’s services. Others will worship much the way they do any other week.
The Daily Reporter asked several local pastors about faith, patriotism and any intersections of the two. Offering their thoughts were the Rev. Stan Banker of Greenfield Friends Church; The Rev. Phil Edwards of Fortville Church of the Nazarene; Dr. Mark Judy, pastor of Hancock Reformed Baptist Church; and the Rev. Janet Tiebert, pastor of Philadelphia United Methodist Church.
“The United States is a Christian nation.” Agree or disagree?
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Banker: Disagree. The United States has strong founding principles of freedom of religion. While most Americans are Christians, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” and the Sixth Article prohibits “religious tests” for serving in a public office. If the objective of the original founders was the establishment of the United States as a Christian nation, that purpose would be clearly stated in the Constitution.
Edwards: I do agree, because this nation was founded on Christian principles. The Pledge of Allegiance describes it as “one nation under God.” The patriotic hymn “America the Beautiful” has a pointed reference to God in the phrases, “God shed His grace on thee,” “God mend thine every flaw,” and “May God thy gold refine.” Other patriotic songs also point to the guiding hand of God upon our nation, such as, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” and “God of Our Fathers.”
The big question we must ask today is, even though we were founded as a Christian nation, are we still a Christian nation? The answer is no. We have turned our backs to God and think we can run the nation on our own selfish motives. We have tried hard to take God out of the schools and workplaces because we don’t want to offend anybody. Have we ever wondered if we are offending God? It is time that Christians stand up and pray for a revival of healing from God within our nation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 tells us what we need to do: “If My people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Judy: The Constitution reflects the Bible. Our original laws reflected the Bible. For many years, popular culture tried to reflect biblical morals and values. In 1776, 98.8 percent of the American population professed to be Christians. French historian Alex de Tocqueville, author of “Democracy in America” in 1835 wrote, “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.” But today, the only source in America that can be called Christian is the Constitution. So I disagree.
Tiebert: I think this question is an interesting one. I always wonder just what exactly is meant when one proposes that the United States is a Christian nation. If it means that the United States is a Christian state in that it is a theocracy in which only Christians are given the rights of citizenship, people can be denied the right to vote, a job, housing, education, or service in public establishments because they are not Christians, or a state in which one could be arrested for not following Christian customs, then the answer is no. If it means that only Christians have a voice, and all other voices are silenced, then again, the answer is no. If it means that some basic Christian values have shaped our identity, then I believe the answer would be yes. The dignity of all people and a sense of fairness and justice for even the poorest of our citizens springs from Christians’ awareness of God’s love for all of creation. We have not always lived up to these values. Our beginnings included only a few in the “all men are created equal” category. We continue to wrestle with the meaning of these words, and it has been only with great struggle that more have been included.
“The founders of the United States were Christians.” Agree or disagree?
Banker: Agree. However, they represented a wide range of Christian and Deist understandings from Episcopal, Congregational, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist (surprisingly, the most vocal in favor of government secularism), Quaker, Catholic, Universal Deism and others. The founders intentionally created a secular government to avoid the dangers of a church-state union including favoritism of one group over another. Authentic faith does not depend upon government support but trust in the principles of such genuine faith.
Edwards: Whether or not all of our founders were Christians is hard to know, but we do know that one of the reasons they came to America was for religious freedom, and I would say a majority of them were God-fearing men who founded this country on the principles of the Bible. This is summed up in the prayer by George Washington for the United States: “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that thou wilt keep the United States in thy holy protection, that thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large.”
Judy: John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, said, “Let us humbly commit our righteous cause to the great lord of the universe.”
John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States and “Chief Architect” of the Constitution, said, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
Thirty-six of the 39 signers of the United States Constitution were professed Protestant Christians. So, yes, I agree.
Tiebert: Context is always important. If one was not a Christian in the infancy of the United States, one did not have voice, vote or power to influence. In genealogical research on my mother’s family, we found a family member who came to the colonies in the 1740s. He was advised to change his name if he hoped to succeed, as his name sounded too Jewish! Not only were men of color and women of any color excluded but also other religious voices. It is not surprising then that the people with power at that time were at least nominally Christian.
How do you think American Christians should live out both of those realities – being Christians and being Americans – in the 21st century?
Banker: “And” is the holy conjunctive. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart AND with all your soul AND with all your mind …” (Matthew 22:37). The primary calling of a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus the Christ and his teachings of Godly love. Such a calling encourages us to be excellent citizens. Though we do not worship the government, we certainly can be positive and caring citizens to the most noblest principles of our nation. We may be both Christians and citizens of a wonderful nation founded on the highest of ideas … and occasionally needing to be reminded of those ideas.
Edwards: I believe that every American should be a follower of Jesus Christ. Being American does not automatically make you a Christian. Being American is by birth or through the immigration process of becoming a U.S. citizen, while becoming a Christian is a choice that each person must make for themselves.
While there are freedoms that we enjoy in the U.S., there is freedom in a relationship with Jesus Christ in that He sets you free from all of your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Judy: It is increasingly more difficult to be a good Christian and what is becoming known as a good American. Jesus taught us that we should try to do both – “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” However, there may come a day very soon in which people and churches will have to decide whether they are going to be good Christians or good Americans.
Tiebert: I often suggest that we ask ourselves this question: “Are you an American who happens to be a Christian, or are you a Christian who happens to be an American?” How you answer this question will help you discover from where you form your identity. For Christians, our identity comes from Christ alone. Christians live lives of faith in countries all around the world by being Christ-like in their lives. Most importantly, be more loving. Forgive more. Listen more, and talk less. Find the places where your ideas and those of the ones with whom you disagree touch and even overlap. Find the common ground. Take God seriously, but don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh a little more and open up!
Are you part of a denomination or group of churches that has weighed in officially on matters of faith and nationalism? If so, what is the official stance?
Banker: Quakers (also known as Religious Society of Friends) have no official stance. However, we emphasize integrity, simplicity, humility, equality, peace and Christ-like love are to be extended to all in caring service and justice. Therefore, we see many ways we can be helpful citizens of our country in joining with such endeavors in our own nation and throughout the world.
Edwards: The Church of the Nazarene is a denomination of many flags, meaning that we represent over 150 world areas. We believe that in the U.S. and every country that we should strive to put God first. That happens when people put God first in their personal lives. The phrase on our currency puts it into perspective: “In God we trust.” When we trust God with our lives and with our nation, no matter what nation it is, only good things will happen. On the contrary, if we choose not to put our trust in God, doom and destruction will follow.
Judy: No, I am not.
Tiebert: United Methodists hold fast to God as trinity and Christ as our lord. We have a passion for helping the poor and oppressed. On most other matters, we agree to disagree. We have official stands on all sorts of social issues over which we debate and argue every four years at our general conference. United Methodists are always a work in progress.
Are there Scriptures, quotes, books and/or authors that have helped shape your thoughts about spirituality and citizenship?
-“Jesus said to them: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” – Mark 12:17
-“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” – I Timothy 2:1-2
-Kevin M. Kruse’s “One Nation Under God”
-“Memorial and Remonstrance” by James Madison, primary author of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as fourth president of the United States
-Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7
-“Christianity and the Constitution” by John Eidsmoe
-“Faith & Freedom” by Benjamin Hart,
-“The Theme is Freedom” by M. Stanton Evans
-“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” -Joshua 24:15
-“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit …” -Matthew 28:19
-“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” -Galatians 3:26-29
-“The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” – John F. Kennedy
-“It is necessary for the welfare of the nation that men’s lives be based on the principles of the Bible. No man, educated or uneducated, can afford to be ignorant of the Bible.” – Theodore Roosevelt
-“The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.” – Calvin Coolidge, 1923
-“We recognize no sovereign but God, and no king but Jesus!” -John Adams and John Hancock (April 18, 1775)
-“I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land.” -Martin Luther King, 1968
-“It is no slight testimonial, both to the merit and worth of Christianity, that in all ages since its promulgation, the great mass of those who have risen to eminence by their profound wisdom and integrity have recognized and reverenced Jesus of Nazareth as the son of the living God.” -John Quincy Adams
-Parker Palmer and Richard Rohr, along with Thomas Merton, are authors who continue to shape my own spirituality, which shapes my whole life, including my citizenship.
-“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” -Matthew 7:5
-“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” -1 John 4:7