This is Memorial Day. Remember our fallen heroes. As you go through this day, I’ll look at this question:
Was America ever really a Christian nation? Was this country built on principles of the Bible? I hear so often that we used to be a Christian nation, but how could a Christian nation enslave Africans kidnapped from their land and kill off most of the Native Americans? This doesn’t seem very Christian. Weren’t several of the founders of the US deists?
I really hesitate to approach this subject for a variety of reasons. Passions run high on all sides of these issues and, believe me, there are lots of sides to take, all of them argued ad nauseum by pundits, historians, experts, and neighbors. Add to this the fact that,when I speak about this I am often dismissed as being an outside commenter. Let me remind you: I was born in this country. While I consider myself a Scotsman, I have the right to call myself an American and not just by accident of birth. My family has lost more than two dozen men in America’s wars from the Civil War on to the present day. My uncles and my father joined the US Navy to fight on behalf of this flag and the freedoms you have here. My grandfather chose to join the US Army during WWI. My son raised his hand and joined the USMC. We have skin in this game and blood in this ground. I have presided over more than a score of funerals of those aged 18-25 who died in battle or by wounds sustained in battle. I’ve heard taps and the sound of rifles more than I ever wanted to.
I am particularly sensitive about this subject right now, if I’m honest. As the senior minister for a large-ish northern congregation, I have to constantly balance how we will address issues that touch on politics as well as our faith. I would guess that a third or so of those in this congregation who voted in the last election voted Democrat and a half or more voted Republican. A few voted Libertarian and we have a sizable contingent who believe it is wrong to vote at all. At least one brother is passionate that you should not vote in national elections but you can in local elections up to and including elections for sheriff (his logic is well thought out and not as arbitrary as I am making it sound here. I don’t agree with him but I have immense respect for how much thought he has given this).
Still, on Sunday, I had a man come and ask if he could start making announcements to get a large group of people to go with him to Glenn Beck’s march in Washington in late August. I had to tell him that he was free to talk to individuals and ask them to go but that we could not make such announcements by word or in our print publications. He was disappointed in me. Another man — an elderly man of good character who served in World War two — posted on his Facebook page that “Rochester Church completely ignored Memorial Day” and went on to indicate that we had disrespected his buddies who had not come home from that war. I wrote him quickly to let him know he was mistaken: I had taken the first few minutes of my sermon to remind people of the holiday, its meaning, and added a request for special prayers for the families of those who had fallen. He acknowledged that I had done so but since we did not have “the National Anthem played, the display of our flag on the stage, nor did we recite the Pledge of Allegiance” we had shown disrespect and disregard for those who have died in service. He has been a member here for years and we have never had such demonstrations in worship so I am not sure why he expected them this time. I know that passions and emotions are running hot and high in our current govermental and economic situation. Still… he was right on one point. We didn’t march, sing, or recite. And we won’t, not in worship.
You see, in my opinion (and I’ve been wrong before), our celebration time on Sunday should be reserved for the worship of God, the praise of Christ, and the encouragement of the saints to live out His life. Period. We don’t do announcements about kids winning the spelling bee but we do announce how they did in Bible Bowls. We don’t bring the Scouts up when they get any awards unless that award is one connected with faith and Christian service. We don’t sing patriotic songs except when those songs are primarily hymns. Our praise is reserved for Jesus. That said, we have often had veterans stand for recognition and applause on Veteran’s Day and we frequently ask first responders of all types (EMT, Nurses, Doctors, police, etc.) to stand and be recognized. We are celebrating the PERSON, not the politics or government or nation. And I get shelled for it almost every time. When I speak of the love and respect I have for our military heroes I get email and calls from pacifists and from those who do not approve of our current wars. Each are full of disappointment in me and, sometimes, rather harsh attacks. When I go speak to Christian high schools, I will join them in saying the Pledge of Allegiance for that is part of their assembly time. Teaching the kids about government and their place in society is part of the school’s job. It is not the job of Rochester Church. (By the way, if the school then pledges allegiance to the Christian flag, I respectfully stand quietly. My religious allegiance is to Jesus, not a flag designed by Protestants in recent decades).
Some of the Founders were Deists, yes, and Thomas Paine was an atheist (he sometimes called himself an agnostic) but a great many were committed Christians. Just read the Federalist Papers (please) and the Anti-Federalist Papers (please, again. You can get these on your Kindle for just a few dollars. These are the papers written by the founders who feared a big government. Prescient, I’d say) and you will see that there was nearly unanimous agreement among them that we were not a Christian nation but that we HAD to be a nation where Christian behavior was the norm and where Christian morality directed the steps of free men (sorry, women. It was assumed you would just follow the guys). Slavery was something that gave many of the founders sleepless nights. They wanted it made illegal immediately but knew that southern states would then not join the confederation and, later, the new nation so they wrote the Constitution and the Declaration using terms that they knew would either lead to eventual suffrage for all men or to war and the dissolution of the Union.
We were a Christian nation? Are we one now? Here, I get in trouble again. I don’t believe that there is any such animal as a Christian nation. You CAN have (and I pray that we continue to have) a nation that is leavened by the presence of a great many committed Christians, including believers serving in all levels of government. When people do not live by Christian principles, government grows. For example, when people do not take care of each other, we need multiple levels of welfare. When people do not help their neighbors and lay down their lives and finances in behalf of others, we have to have insurance, FEMA, and a hundred other agencies and non-governmental agencies. When the state becomes our religion, we are in deep trouble. While I love and honor the military (can any regular reader of this blog doubt that?), I do not worship it. Those who serve are my heroes but they are not my gods. We must make that distinction and remember it.
I know Christians who are stockpiling ammunition and food as they see this current administration (and the last several, to be fair) copying the sins of Woodrow Wilson and FDR by stealing away freedom from the common citizen and giving largess to their constituencies in order to ensure their continued reign. I know Christians who heartily approve of that loss of freedom for they see the leveling of socialism to be a Christian goal. I know Christians who are too busy watching The Batchelorette and Dancing With The Stars to know what is happening on the political scene. They vote according to how they “feel” at the moment; “thinking” has nothing to do with it.
All I know is that God was God before there was a Scotland, a USA, or a Rochester Church and that He will still be King and God when we are gone. While I wish my government was staffed by more believers and that those believers actually lived out what they claim they believe (keep your pants on, people, and keep other peoples’ hands out of your pockets, too), I do not count on my government. I count on, and rely on, the providence of God, the love of my family, and whatever strength and blessings God gives me. Whether or not this is a Christian nation (even assuming such a beastie can exist), I am required to be a Christian while in it.
Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and give to God the things that belong to God.