For several decades there has been a continuing shift from the historic faith, values, and traditions upon which this country was founded. We have drifted from being a Christian Nation to a Nation that is said to be founded on Christian principles. We have absorbed and birthed a number of religions and, as a Nation, have embraced religious pluralism.
During the presidential primaries, faith and its place in today’s society has become an important part of the debate. Media, journalists, and voters, have frequently asked candidates about their religious views. The presumptive presidential nominees of each party also had to address their own views of how, or where, “Christian” fits into our heritage.
“I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would--I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead.” John McCain 1
“Given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” Barack Obama, Call to Renewal Keynote Address June 28, 2006 2
From centuries past you can hear the gasp of disbelief from the founding fathers of this Nation, as regardless of who wins, our next President has acknowledged this is not a Christian nation; but, at best, a nation established on Christian principles. These were certainly not the views expressed by men such as John Jay, (President of the Continental Congress and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) who wrote:
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
It would be hard to imagine in this age of political correctness that a political leader or candidate would give voice to such thoughts. Perhaps even more difficult to imagine would be those expressed by our second president, John Adams, who wrote:
“The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity, and humanity.”
Today, anyone expressing such views would be quickly labeled as intolerant or an extremist, if not both. Yet, these were the views held by many, if not most of the founding fathers; rooted in their Christian faith. And, they were views that were openly and oft expressed.
Today, many Christians still hold the beliefs expressed by Jay and Adams, but no longer dare express them in public discourse; especially in the political arena. Even noted Christian leaders have at times backed away from sharing such beliefs before secular audiences. It makes you wonder why beliefs that were prominently expressed by our founding fathers are rarely part of the public discussion today.
In his Call to Renewal Keynote Address, Senator Obama made an interesting observation relative to the discussion about religion going on today:
“Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew…when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.”
He is correct that there is an ongoing debate about the various religious views held in our country. He is also correct that the discussion often leaves a vacuum to be filled. And, perhaps, he is even correct that it is too often filled with those who “use religion to justify partisan means”. But, it is also true that, increasingly, missing from that discussion are those that represent the religious convictions expressed by John Jay, John Adams, and other founders of our Nation. If Christians still hold these convictions dear then they must become part of this discussion.
Integral to this debate must be the realization, by all sides, that the litmus test for being an American is not whether or not one is a Christian; nor does being an American mean that a Christian must give up long-held expressions of their faith anymore than a person of another faith must give up theirs.
Tolerance does not mean only speaking about areas where we find common ground. Neither is intolerance measured by the degree to which one expresses views that are opposed to those of another. In fact, faith demands that one hold firm to his/her convictions and express them consistently and truthfully. Those who claim to be followers of Christ must also, as Christians and Americans, discuss areas of disagreement with civility and respect; something that is all too often missing in our Country today.
While we may disagree who has the honey and who is the fly, the old adage, “you can catch more flies with honey” is still true. So why not join me in a jar of honey and let’s sit down and have a conversation.