I have not traveled outside of this county’s borders often; of the two hundred and fifty plus other countries I have only seen four. But I have seen enough to know that I am thankful to be living in the United States. I don’t say this out of some sense of patriotic flag-waving. The reason I am thankful is that this is home. And so I love it, warts and all.
U.S. history is one of my favorite subjects; easily my favorite that doesn’t involve theology. And this is its greatest day. Two hundred and thirty-six years ago today, a group of men gathered in Philadelphia to sign an important document. It was a bold move because if they failed they would have likely paid with their lives for treason. This, most all of you know.
There is a sense among some individuals that these men were also trying to create a Christian nation. This is interesting considering that religious freedom was one of the bedrocks for this new enterprise. Many people counter with the fact that our founding fathers did not foresee that this country would one day be full of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, and secular humanists.
While that may be true to an extent, many of the founding fathers were Enlightenment-influenced deists. They believed in the Bible as a good moral guide, but didn’t hold the Christian faith in as high an esteem as most would have you believe.
In fact, when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were running for President, some Federalists told church ladies that if Jefferson was elected then he would burn everyone’s Bibles. It’s fun foreshadowing of political campaigns today and wasn’t true given our third President’s penchant for freedom (though he did write his own version of the New Testament with all the miracles and supernatural events edited out).
So the men that signed the Declaration of Independence were bold men. They were brilliant men. But they were not all necessarily believing men, though many certainly were. Even still, what they did on this day is no less special.
I write all of this to diffuse the myth that the United States was ever a Christian country. The fact of the matter is no country can be deemed a Christian nation by a government’s action. Sure they can call themselves a Christian nation, but it is in name only. Today’s plurality of religions make it nigh impossible for any country to call itself Christian.
In light of all this, the question that the American church asks today should not be “How can we make the United States a Christian nation again?” It’s the wrong attitude. Instead we should be asking, “How can we influence this country to be more Christ-like?”
The good news is this is still God’s country. Of course, every country is since God created this world and everything in it. So while there is nothing wrong with patriotism, our first allegiance as Christians is to God alone.
Many people will be singing “God Bless America” today. Good song. A sentiment with which I agree. But we should also be singing in our hearts “God Bless Argentina,” “God Bless France,” “God Bless Iran,” and “God Bless North Korea.” I say this because I believe that God’s blessing has nothing to do with prosperity, at least materially speaking.
God’s blessing has to do with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control coming down upon a nation. And that is something that we, as Christians and Americans, should desire for all people. After all, each of us lives in God’s country.