Kennedy's 'Postcards from
What makes something 'Christian'?
Jonal entry 921 | Monday, September 26, 2005
In Friday's Jonal I objected to someone calling the Nanty Glo Home Page a "Christian website." Earlier, on the eforum list, I objected to a listmember calling Nazi Dictator Adolph Hitler a Christian. If you think I'm sensitive about things that strike me as misuse of the word "Christian," you're right. Having spent most of my adult life as a minister and later a lay teacher defining and defending the reality behind that word, it has accrued some importance to me.
But what moved me to take up this topic in a more general way today was a headline that popped up over the weekend. It referred to a claim that Bishop T.D. Jakes, the black pastor of a megachurch in Dallas named The Potter's House, made in an interview: "I don't think we are a Christian nation, and I don't think we were meant to be," as reported by USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham. I've considered this proposition in the past and despite the U.S. Supreme Court saying in a ruling a century or so ago that the United States is a Christian nation, I can relate to the "Bishop's" position, though probably not quite for his reasons. And I also relate to what the Supreme Court justice who penned the line that we "are" a Christian nation meant. The learned justice was no doubt thinking sociologically...our Founding Fathers definitely preferred Christianity in its consideration of moral guidelines for the nation; they adopted the Ten Commandments as the foundation of American law, and sociologically, America was then and remains today a "Christian" nation in the sense that the vast majority of our citizens align themselves with Christianity at least nominally when questions of ultimate things or guiding principles come up.
But if by "a Christian nation" we mean that makes us God's favorite or chosen nation, or that Christians get rights and privileges here that non-Christians are not given, or that despite our not having a state church, America does have a state religion in Christianity, I think this is not and should not be true. But this gets to the question of the day: What makes something 'Christian'? More specifically, what makes a state or national government or system of government "Christian"? I think it's a dangerous proposition, even to Christians, because of how difficult it is for us even as individual people who have committed to following Jesus Christ know it to bealmost impossibleto be "Christian," and to claim that we have arrived and actually "are" Christians belies a pride that could be our undoing. Externally, in our church affiliation and faithful support, we are "Christians," and if we have to identify a chaplain in the military, college, or in prison, we put down "Christian," but if we are actually taught in the doctrines of the faith, we know we have to say that with a grain of salt or with our fingers crossed (not that we know we're lying, as that expression sometimes is taken to mean, but that we "hope so," we "pray God so").
As I read world history, I think England, Russia, and the Netherlands have made the best showing of trying to be Christian nations, and despite their best efforts, despite their spotty successes, they have so often failed miserably that I'm ready to conclude that it's better not to make that the goal. Instead, I think it makes more sense to make being a "Christian-friendly" nation, but also friendly to other and even competing worldviews and foundations for living, as the goal, and letting the chips fall where they may. I do insist that Christians should have as much right to make their input into the community/national ethos as anyone else, and if they are a majority imposing their morality (not their religion, but the implications of their religion) on the minorities, that's what democracy is all about. Let the minorities do a better job of evangelizing and soon they will be the majority. If the Christian majority decides that gambling is a blight on communities and chooses to outlaw it, that's a proper social policy, I think. It will keep many individuals, families, and companies, from ruin, from bankruptcy, and from being a drain on the community/national economy. If some Christians say they are against gambling because it's a sin (using a politically incorrect term), others have the right to object that "sin" has no place in our national ethos...but that doesn't trump the Christian majority's right to vote to curtail gambling. Or to uphold the right of unborn babies to be born. Or any other moral stance that liberals want to "politicize" in order to disenfranchise Christians.
Have I made myself clear? Not very likely.