Was the United States founded as a Christian nation? One of our current presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. John McCain, believes that we were. A recent poll shows that McCain is not alone in his beliefs. 55% of Americans think that the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation. McCain received some flack for his comments, which he has since clarified, "What I do mean to say is the United States of America was founded on … Judeo-Christian values, which were translated by our founding fathers [and are] basically the rights of human dignity and human rights."
Conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved, an observant Jew, wrote a detailed article this past week on the subject and defended McCain. He concludes, "The framers may not have mentioned Christianity in the Constitution, but they clearly intended that charter of liberty to govern a society of fervent faith, freely encouraged by government for the benefit of all. Their noble and unprecedented experiment never involved a religion-free or faithless state but did indeed presuppose America’s unequivocal identity as a Christian nation."
Christianity Today, a magazine founded by Rev. Billy Graham, ran an editorial in July of 2005 that was critical of the concept (the article is no longer on their website, but can be found here). The editorial begins with strong words, "George W. Bush is not Lord. The Declaration of Independence is not an infallible guide to Christian faith and practice. Nor is the U.S. Constitution, nor the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. "Original intent" of America's founders is not the hermeneutical key that will guarantee national righteousness. The American flag is not the Cross. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the Creed. "God Bless America" is not the Doxology. Sometimes one needs to state the obvious—especially at times when it's less and less obvious." They go on to say, "The not-so-subtle equation of America's founding with biblical Christianity has been shown time and again to be historically inaccurate. The founding was a unique combination of biblical teaching and Enlightenment rationalism, and most of the founding fathers, as historian Edwin Gaustad, among many others, has noted, were not orthodox Christians, but instead were primarily products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, we should recall, has never been much of a friend of biblical Christianity."
It appears the extent of the influence of Christianity on our founding fathers might be debatable. But it is undeniable that Christian morals at least played a role. With all of this said, should we base our vote for a Presidential candidate on whether or not they are a Christian? It appears important to folks like Dr. James Dobson, who is less than thrilled with the selection of Republican candidates and is threatening to put his support behind a 3rd party candidate (even if it means that his candidate will split the Republican vote and thereby guarantee a Democratic victory). Dobson has even questioned the faith of one candidate, former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, because of his lack of church attendance.
Just because one is a devout Christian does not mean one will be a good President (Jimmy Carter). On the other hand, a lack of a church attendance does not mean one will be a poor President (Ronald Reagan never attended church during his two terms as Commander-In-Chief). We must also be careful of any candidate who wears their religion on their sleeve for political gain. All else being equal (and assuming I support their policies), I would be inclined to vote for a candidate who shared my faith. But if the qualifications of a non-Christian candidate where better than the Christian's, I would likely lean toward the non-Christian. While I love my Christian brothers and sisters, I would not select a surgeon based on their faith. We must be careful in doing the same when we look at Presidential candidates, no matter how strong an influence the Christian faith had during the formation of our country.