Was America founded as a Christian nation?By John Fea
I have spent a good portion of 2011 and 2012 on the road and on the radio waves promoting my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? In the process, I have learned a lot about what Americans think about the founding of the United States. Many people have been thoughtful, open-minded and willing to listen to my interpretation of the relationship between Christianity and the American Revolution. Others have not.
I have been keeping a journal to reflect on what my encounters with “Christian America” tell us about how American evangelicals, and Americans more broadly, engage the past. Here are a few of the more interesting things that have happened to me recently:
— In a talk to a group of mainline Protestant clergy I was accused of anti-Catholicism for quoting John Adams. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the other ministers in attendance explained to their colleague that I was not personally endorsing anti-Catholic views, but only trying to make the point that the worldview of some founders, particularly Adams, was profoundly anti-Catholic.
— A conservative talk radio host in Orange County, Calif., asked me if the founding fathers would have opposed the placing of American flags near gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. (There was apparently a news story dealing with this issue at the time of my interview.) When I said that I did not know, he went off on a tirade about how liberal history professors were destroying this country. At one of the commercial breaks (off the air), he changed to a friendly tone of voice and praised my answer to his question. He said that the interview was “going well” and called it “one of the best I have done in a long time.” When we returned from the break he continued his tirade.
— A syndicated Christian radio host asked me if I thought Thomas Jefferson was a Christian. When I said that it is hard to label a person “Christian” who rejects the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he responded, “Well, he may not have been a Christian, but he was a believer!” (He then promptly cut to commercial break before I had a chance to respond.) I am still trying to get my head around this one.
— A Christian podcaster conducted a one-hour interview with me as her dog barked relentlessly in the background. I am assuming the canine did not like the answer to the question in the title of my book.
— A talk radio host in Atlanta asked me if I was a Christian. I said yes, fully expecting him to ask how a Christian could not endorse the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation. Instead, he asked me if I had ever heard “Jesus Freak,” a song made popular by the Christian rap group D.C. Talk. When I told him that I had indeed heard the song, he seemed rather excited and started talking about D.C. Talk with his co-host/sidekick. He then took a commercial break, and when he came back on the air for the second half of the interview he played “Jesus Freak” and announced, “This one is for you, professor!”
— A Christian radio host asked me to define George Washington’s position on abortion.
— During the Q&A following a talk to a group of youth workers in Minneapolis, a man said that he would not buy my book unless I told him what I thought of David Barton. No sale was made.
— After hearing me talk about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? at Colonial Williamsburg, a man asked me if Messiah College “was still a Christian college?” At the same lecture, a woman wanted to know if I believed in “collective salvation like Barack Obama.”
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