From the Bible Belt to the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island, being Christian and being American seem to go hand in hand. Yet, today’s society tells a totally different tale. This tale is that the two do not go together like apple pie and ice cream in July. This tale shatters some of the truths we have taken for granted for our entire lives. Well the reality is that this tale is true. One cannot claim to hold true to Jesus and the ideals of American, as presented in the constitution, without running into some severe and unfortunate contradictions.
It all started in the late 18th century, when America was being established. Having fled for religious freedom, from the Catholic Church ironically, the colonists won independence from Britain. Now they wanted to establish a new government that would not betray them and that they could control. Enter the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the men who penned the Declaration of Independence and Constitution respectively. They were leaders of their day, and today we look to them to claim that America is a Christian nation. Oh how wrong we are. Sorry Dr. Carson and Senator Cruz, America cannot return to its Christian roots because there really are not any. When Jefferson and Madison sought to create a new government they turned to the philosophies of five men: Niccoló Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu. (I encourage the reader to read about these men as their full beliefs cannot be covered here.) While they differed in ideas, from the more violent Machiavelli to Locke’s ideas on life and property, there is one thing they agree on: religion should have little to do with government. Wait what? That’s not the story we have all been told. America was founded on Christian values by Christian men. Wrong again. Jefferson was a deist and Madison never really claimed religion. The truth is that our founding fathers and their role models thought that Jesus taught good morals. They loved him as a teacher and a prophet, but that is all they saw him as. The founding fathers took some moral ideas from Jesus and used them to enumerate some freedoms. What they established was a constitution that is the basis as to what being American really means. But in doing so they twisted the spirit of what Jesus taught and switched the focus.
Surely that is not true. I mean could we really be this wrong after all of these years? When we begin look at the wording of the constitution and the objective it tried to achieve, we reveal more about the moral basis of our country. Jesus teaches that we should reflect Him, thus setting a certain standard of the heart. Not a standard to be perfect, but a standard to put Him first and others second, to love. The American Constitution says nearly the complete opposite. The Bill of Rights is all about what an individual has the right to. The first amendment says you can believe what you want, say what you want, and live how you want and no one should care, especially the government. The rest of the Bill of Rights, and the constitution really, is more about how much an individual can get, not about what they can give. The founding fathers were not concerned with making sure that people acted in love. They were only concerned that the government was held in check. Thus being American is about taking full advantage of the rights you have been given. That my friends, is quite contrary to how Jesus taught us to love one another and be more concerned for others than for ourselves. The constitution is self-centered and me-focused. It demands that the government, and often times others, give me something. The constitution is a conviction lacking, convenient and watered down version of what Jesus was trying to say, and today’s America people have taken that and run with it.
But what exactly was Jesus trying to say? He was trying to tell the people of the world that he had come to save them, to take them from being sinners to being saints (2 Corinthians 5:21), and the above all He loves them like His father does (John 3:16). But that move requires something. It requires us surrendering our hearts and repenting of our sins (Acts 3:19). There must be that inner change of focus from doing whatever pleases me, to doing whatever pleases the Lord. We do not exist here on earth to glorify ourselves. We exist to glorify God. Are you beginning to see the rub between being American and being Christian? From the constitution’s point of view there is no need to repent, apologize, or anything like that because as human beings we have the freedom to do as we please. Americans have the right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness[i],” whatever that may mean, and they love it. They have the right to live life our own way and no one, not even the government can interfere. Thus, other Americans have no right to tell them that they are wrong or that what they are doing is wrong. The constitution teaches tolerance, not love.
This thought process could not be farther from the truth of the Bible. God has laid down firm commands which we are to live by, and can be summed up in two commands. In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus says this, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’” This love is completely different from the tolerance seen in today’s America. Love is about putting God first by obeying and glorifying Him and others second by serving and loving them. This obedience often comes at the price of having to step on some toes occasionally, and being held to a higher standard. But that is what love really is, speaking the truth so that someone might be saved. Tolerance on the other hand is about putting up with others so that one can get what they believe they are owed, and telling people that they do not need to repent from their ways to avoid confrontation. Where the constitution says stay as you are because you have that right, Jesus says come as you are because I love you and want something better for you. Yet Christians fail to deliver this message with love and compassion like Jesus did. Because of this, many people would rather be American than be Christian. As an American anything goes, and there is none of that seemingly hateful Christian judgement (post about this coming later). Who cares if you don’t donate to the poor? It’s your money. Who cares if you think you can get to heaven by doing nothing? You’re entitled to believe what you want. No one should say anything. Being a Christian is harder than being American because it requires that we humble ourselves, love others. Not to mention the fact that being a Christian means we are held to higher standards.
As Christians we have a job, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the earth. Well, I think that our home nation is a great place to start. Here we have ideologies that say everyone is accepted and can do as they please because you have that right. Even Jesus says you have that right on earth, it is called free will. But Jesus offers more. When we follow the constitution and today’s society the best we can get is the ever elusive America dream. We can obtain a life where no one tells us we are wrong and we have what we think is a great life. With Jesus there is more. More money, power, or success is not guaranteed. There is however more love, joy, compassion, peace, and a lot of eternal life. When we claim to be Christian we put others first. We live to love them and serve them as we love and serve God, and we hold ourselves accountable to the commands of Jesus. When we claim to be American we hold tight to our rights and fight anyone who tries to take them away. That is selfish and arrogant. We are to be humble and love others. My name is Chuck Schober and I am a Christian, not an American.
[i] Declaration of Independence