I love America. Don’t ever get me wrong on that point.
I was in Dave & Buster’s the other night with a few friends. We had just arrived and were standing in the front of the restaurant and the gang was trying to decide what to do. I was watching the US women’s soccer team playing Germany in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup on a nearby TV. The U.S. was already leading 1-0, and while I was watching, they scored again. Skip to 1:32 in this video.
In the restaurant, in front of my friends and a bunch of strangers, I literally jumped in the air and got excited. I mean, it’s America. I haven’t followed the tournament super closely, and I know who maybe a quarter of the players are. But it’s America. I’ve gotta get pumped.
So now that you know I love America, let me say probably the most unpopular opinion in one half of the evangelical world right now: “returning” America to being a “Christian nation” is not the point of the church’s existence in the world.
With the gay marriage decision right behind us and many fears of the future ahead, there are lots more cries recently about how we’re becoming further and further from returning America to the “way the founders intended it.” Who am I kidding, I’ve been hearing this ever since I could hear and process and understand words. Sin is legal, people are saying, and now we’re even further down that path.
We’re not a Christian nation. We never have been and never will be. And that was never the point of the Gospel.
Let’s get technical for a second: To be a “Christian nation,” I think there has to be two things. First, every person living in the nation has to be a Christian. Second, every law and statute must be taken directly from the Bible. America stands for the opposite of that kind of religious oppression. From the beginning, the United States was meant to be a home for those who who found religious persecution in other nations.
That was the point of the free exercise clause in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” You can argue that this right is disappearing, but let’s be honest: rules are made to be broken, even by the institutions that made them. We shouldn’t be surprised.
At most, we have been a nation that is open to all religions and all peoples. What’s the inscription on the Statue of Liberty?
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Side note: Sounds a lot like Jesus to me. He wasn’t discriminate about what people believed or where they were in their spiritual walk, He just wanted to love them.
Anyways, the laws of this country restrict us from ever being a “Christian nation” in the technical sense of the term. And thank goodness! The whole “Christian nation” thing never really worked in the past. See England with the Catholic Church and then the Anglican church running things, and the people who made the Crusades happen. Yikes.
But I’m getting away from my main point. Politics aside.
It’s not the point of Jesus to make America a “Christian nation” in any sense of the term. If we focus too much on “healing the nation” and not the people in the nation, we’re missing the point of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to fix the government, He came to heal the sick and the lost.
When Jesus came to earth, some of the Jews thought He was going to lead a revolution against the Roman government and restore things to being friendly and un-oppressive to Jews. He was asked about this idea when He stood before Pilate hours before His execution.
John 18:33-37 says:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
The kingdom of Christ was never meant to be established in this world. And by trying to make America a “Christian nation,” we’re missing the point of Jesus coming. Our goal as Christians is not to make the government better, pass laws or stop people from sinning. Our mission as Christians is to make disciples of all nations.
What happens is that we forget who we really are and where we’re really from and where we’re really headed. Our primary identity is not that we are American. It’s not that we are patriots. It’s not that we are from whatever state we’re from or whatever city we’re from. We can be those things and refer to ourselves as those things and enjoy those things.
But our primary allegiance is not the flag we say a pledge to or sing an anthem about. Our primary identity and primary allegiance is found in one place: God dying for us on a cross.
Ultimately, we’re not citizens of America or citizens of earth. Christians, we’re citizens of a place that’s going to last a lot longer than America. It’s a place where there’s freedoms unimagined, joy unrestrained, peace unbound.
That doesn’t mean you can’t love America. In fact, it should mean that we love America more than everyone else because we want everyone in America to see the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of forgiveness and the beauty of a life fulfilled by knowing Jesus.
I’m afraid that if Jesus came to America right now, people would ask Him to go to Washington, D.C., and talk to Obama, talk to Congress, get them to pass better laws. I’m guessing and hoping (and I could be wrong and I’m OK with that) that He would shake His head, and repeat something He said during His earthly ministry (Matthew 11:27-30):
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.