Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Back in 2015 I joined George Marsden, Mark Noll, and Tracy McKenzie to discuss this topic at a conference on racial reconciliation hosted by Wheaton College.  You can watch the conversation here:

I wrote about this conference in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is what I wrote:

In early 2013, I received an email from Rev. Ray McMillan, the pastor of Faith Christian Center, a conservative evangelical and largely African American congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio.  McMillan was writing to ask me if I might be interested in participating on a panel at an upcoming conference on evangelicals and racial reconciliation, to be held later that year on the campus of Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in western suburban Chicago.  I was initially surprised by the invitation.  I cared about racial reconciliation, but I had never spoken at a conference on the subject.  I was not an expert in the field, and even my own historical work did not dive explicitly into race or the history of people of color in the United States . I was even more confused when Rev. McMillan asked me to be part of a plenary presentation on the subject of my recent book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?.  I thought I could probably say a few things about race and the American founding, but I also wondered if someone more prepared, and perhaps more of an activist in this area, might be better suited to speak in my time slot.  After a follow-up phone conversation with Rev. McMillan, I began to see what he was up to.  He told me that he and other Cincinnati pastors were noticing a disturbing trends in their African American and interracial congregations.  Many of their parishioners had accepted the idea, propagated by the Christian Right, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation . McMillan believed that such an understanding of history was troubling for African American evangelicals.  The promoters of this view were convincing many African Americans in Cincinatti that they needed to “reclaim” or “restore” America to its supposedly Christian roots in order to win the favor of God.  McMillan could not stomach the idea that a country that was committed to slavery, Jim Crow laws, and all kinds of other racial inequalities could ever call itself “Christian.”  Why would any African American want to “reclaim” a history steeped in racism?  If America was indeed built on Judeo-Christian principles, then its Founders would one day stand before God and explain why they did not apply these beliefs to African Americans.  And if America was not founded as a Christian nation, McMillan needed to tell his congregation that they had been sold a bill of goods.

6 thoughts on “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

  1. Yes. And I would not be yoked to or a member of. Of course I have qualms about that other party.


  2. Jeff,

    Well, there are not any major political clubs which espouse racism. There is a major political party which officially espouses abortion on demand and practical sexual libertinism.



  3. Whether it is specifically a biblical principle or not I would not, for instance, stay in a political club that espouses racism. That’s an extreme example but I used it to make the point.
    If you want insert “belong to” or maybe “associate with” for yoked.


  4. Jeff,
    Although I have nothing against Focus on the Family, the radio show does not interest me. Like you I don’t really want to listen to the same type of basic teaching on all of the holidays.

    When people do talk about the Christian roots of the country, it is possible to argue that there were nominal Judeo-Christian underpinnings to the country, but it’s a step too far to affirm that most of the founders were orthodox Christians. They were not. A sizable percentage were Freemasons and unaffiliated Enlightenment unitarians. Even with that mix, however, official society still had basic moral roots in the Bible and other Western canonical texts. Sadly, that is now being erased.

    As far as being yoked to people who bring shame to Christ, I can see it in the local church but it’s impossible to apply it to the greater world. I Corinthians 5:9-13.


  5. I was listening this morning to WDAC, “my” Christian radio station. Focus on the Family had the usual patriotic show on the purely Christian foundation of the USA.
    I keep having difficulties with the tact they take. I read a lot of American History. I am fascinated by it.
    But the way they feel the need to remind us of our “Christian heritage” puts me in mind of a family that is depending for their security with God on the basis of their great-great-great-great grandfather who was a wonderful, effective Christian.
    Even IF we were this homogeneous, devoted bunch of faithful Christians in the 17th and 18th century, which we weren’t in the way these folks describe, we can only be what we are today. Those of us who are Christians can try to humbly desire to be more Christlike. Forget some kind of claim on this country as something to be “taken back”.
    We as individuals simply should be Christians, if that is what we are. If we choose to be yoked with any person or organization we can make sure to do so only as long as they are pursuing objectives that don’t bring shame to the name of Christ.


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