Just what is a Christian nation? A long list of past American leaders admonish us not to abandon the Good Book – a warning I believe Christians, including me, should take seriously. But when we claim to be a Christian nation, I begin to wonder if we’re not engaged in a bit of selective reading of the sacred scriptures.
As we look for biblical guidance as a nation, we often point to the Ten Commandments as a place to start. The Decalogue does have its merits, calling us back to God, to Sabbath rest, to honesty and fidelity, respect for life and right relationships, but those worthy attributes are hardly limited to Christianity. Jews and Muslims try to live by these same tenets, as do people of other faiths and even people of no named faith whatsoever.
Perhaps we should seek more specific guidance for a Christian nation in the words of Jesus himself. Can we go there? Can we as a nation follow Jesus when he says, “... sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor ... then come follow me” (Luke 18:22)? Not exactly the American Dream.
How about when he instructs us to “... offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well,” (Matthew 5:39)? Or “… love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you ...” (Matthew 5:44)? What war could be judged to be just in light of such commands? It seems it’s more satisfying to let the lyrics of certain post-9/11 country songs guide us on this one. And how does Jesus’ claim that, “the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest” (Luke 9:48b) stack up against the American obsession with success as measured by money and power?
I wonder, do we really want to be a Christian nation or do we simply want to display our piety in mottos and pledges to convince the world (and God?) that we truly are Christian? Do the words “Laus Deo” at the top of the Washington Monument affect the way we live out our Christian call? Not likely, but rather, the Word of God written in our hearts that tells us in no uncertain terms, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
We are called to be people of unconditional love, with arms wide open, embracing all God’s children. That way, whatever country we live in will be touched with the true power of Christianity and all people will be assured the dignity they deserve as beings created in the image and likeness of God.
Are we a Christian nation? More likely a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews and others, struggling to love as God loves. In our struggle, perhaps it would be wise to remember the words imprinted on the humble nickel coin: In God We Trust and E Pluribus Unum.