I have been working my way through Wayne Grudem’s book, Politics According To The Bible. It is meant to be a guide for Christians that helps them understand the political issues and how they should engage in political activity.
One section of the book talks about the oft repeated question, “Is America a Christian nation?” I think Grudem does an excellent job of answering this question in an instructive and helpful way.
The question cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” until we define more carefully what we mean by “a Christian nation.” That is one reason why people sometimes become so upset about this question—different people have different meanings in mind for the phrase “a Christian nation,” and therefore they can end up talking about different things but using the same words and just misunderstanding one another.
Here are several meaning one can attach to the phrase “a Christian nation,” together with an answer to the question that varies according to each meaning:
(1) Is Christian teaching the primary religious system that influenced the founding the United State? Yes, it is.
(2) Were the majority of the Founding Fathers of the United States Christians who generally believed in the truth of the Bible? Yes, they were.
(3) Is Christianity (of various sorts) the largest religion in the United States? Yes, it is.
(4) Did Christian beliefs provide the intellectual background that led to many of the cultural values still held by Americans today?…Yes, Christian beliefs have provided much of the intellectual background for many of these and other cultural values.
(5) Was there a Supreme Court decision at one time that affirmed that the United States is a Christian nation? Yes, there was, but that wasn’t the issue that was under dispute in the case…
(6) Are a majority of people in the United States Bible-believing, evangelical, born-again Christians? No, I do not think they are. Estimates range from 18 to 42% of the U.S. population who are evangelical Christians, and I suspect a number around 20% is probably more nearly correct…
(7) Is belief I Christian values the dominant perspective promoted by the United States government, the media, and universities in the United States today? No, it is not.
(8) Does the United States government promote Christianity as the national religion? No, it does not.
(9) Does a person have to profess Christian faith in order to become a U.S. citizen or to have equal rights under the law in the United States? No, certainly not…
In conclusion, how can we answer the question, “Is the United States a Christian nation?” It all depends on what someone means by “a Christian antion.” In five possible meanings, the answer is yes. In four other possible meanings, the answer is no. Because there are that many possible meanings in people’s minds (and possibly more that I have not thought of), I do not think the question is very helpful in current political conversations. It just leads to arguments, misunderstanding, and confusion. The same points that a speaker wants to make with this claim can be made more clearly, without causing confusion, in terms of one or more of the expanded meaning that I have listed above.