Did The Founding Fathers Intend a ‘Christian Nation’?

November 4, 2008

What did the Founding Fathers mean? It’s a question that’s at the heart of an ongoing debate between
conservative Christians and advocates of the separation of church and
state. The Christian Nation camp says the Founding Fathers based
America on Christian principles. The secularists say the nation was
founded on Enlightenment ideals.

But the right answer is not black or white. It is shades of gray.

Most religious scholars say America was founded on the Enlightenment
notion of justice for all, which the founders expressed in the wake of
the injustices in European and early American colonial theocracies.

The founders believed that the tragic flaw of theocracies is the
violence and divisiveness they create. To unite the country, they put
forth the idea that all Americans – regardless of religious affiliation
– had to be viewed as one nation.

And many of the founders were deists, meaning they believed in a
creator that does not affect people’s everyday lives. They ended up
mixing the secular ideas of equality with the religious language of the
times. Thus, you get documents such as the Declaration of Independence
with phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable

The Founding Fathers were espousing Christian values while allowing
for an ecumenicalism that overrides specific religious dogma to unite
the great melting pot of America.

American politicians who appear to stray from this ideal with overt religious messages are rejected.

But the presidential and vice presidential candidates in this year’s
election get it, judging from their speeches. One could even say that
Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin uphold the ideal
of the Founding Fathers.

“In this campaign, we have seen four candidates confess to be
Christians, but their mission is to serve all people of the country,”
said David Weddle, professor of religion at Colorado College. “They are
pushing specific moral values from the Christian tradition, but it’s
couched in universal respect for all people.”

When Palin says she is against gay marriage but “tolerant” of gays;
when Obama says he’s pro-choice but seeks consensus among the right on
reducing unwanted pregnancies; when McCain says he’s opposed to Roe v.
Wade but advocates states’ rights on abortion; when Biden says he’s
against gay marriage but for gay rights, the Founding Fathers’ shades
of gray are in play.

It’s a delicate balancing act. Consider Mike Huckabee, who failed to
excite enough voters to win the GOP primary. His GOP primary loss may
have been in part because there was too much religion.

Yet secular-minded politicians who ignore America’s religious tradition do so at their own peril.

See my blog under the Blogs tab at gazette.com, called “The Pulpit,”
for more of my interview with Weddle and links to information on the
separation of church and state.

Source: The Gazette

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