By Bill Eagle
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My church has a fellowship hall, with an ample kitchen. When our Sunday worship service concludes, people are encouraged to congregate and visit. Members take turns in supplying refreshments, and each Sunday's repast brings about new and pleasant surprises.
I remember sitting at a table with my wife and a couple of other church members. I also remember starting to stuff my face with carrot cake, and some small finger sandwiches (filled with some sort of tasty mystery meat), when a man sitting next to me said: "Don't you think that our country should go back to its beginnings? We started as a Christian Nation, and it's about time that we return…"
My wife squinted her eyes and looked across the table "A Christian Nation?"
"Yeah, a Christian Nation." Said the man. "Our founding fathers were Christians, and our whole nation was founded on Christian principles. It's right there in the Constitution."
My wife Claudia is not a big person, but her eyes narrowed and she half rose from the table, giving her an appearance of size. "No it isn't," she said. "There is nothing in our Constitution that says that we are a Christian nation. In fact, our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God."
"Sure it does." Said the man, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…"
"That's in the declaration of Independence, not our Constitution." Interjected my wife.
"Acknowledging a creator does not mean that these people were Christians."
"Yes, but they were," said the man. "They weren't Hindus, Jews or Moslems."
"I don't know about Hindus or Moslems," replied Claudia, as she lifted a small cookie from her plate," but Jews did play a part in our American Revolution, and helped form our country. Much of Europe had institutionalized anti-Semitism, and Jews came to our country seeking freedom. The first man to sign his name in protest of the Stamp act was Mathias Bush, the Jewish President of Philadelphia's synagogue. A Jew; Aaron Solomon, stood with Christians at the battle of Bunker Hill. Another Jew, Francis Salvador, lost his life in 1776 after raising volunteers to repel Indian attacks."
Claudia looked at the man and continued. "The declaration of Independence that you started to quote was first sent to Amsterdam via the small Dutch island of St. Eustatius. The British intercepted the Declaration at sea. An accompanying letter with the Declaration was also intercepted and sent to London as being a secret code. The letter was written in Yiddish.
Another Jew, Hayim Solomon bankrupted himself supporting the American Cause. He arranged for arms to be shipped into the colonies from the Dutch island of St. Eustatius, and caused a lot of trouble for the British. He is considered to be the financial hero of our American Revolution."
"So some Jews helped us," said the man. "We're still a Christian Nation, and most of our founders were Christians."
"No they weren't," replied Claudia. "If we say that a Christian is a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, then it is safe to say that some of our key Founding Fathers were not Christians at all. Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists. They believed in a God, but they rejected revelation and all the supernatural elements of our faith. John Adams was a professed Unitarian, and he also appeared to be more a deist than a Christian.
"How do you know so much?" asked the man.
Claudia replied: "I used to teach school, and I read."
"Let me continue," said Claudia; "Our Founding fathers weren't necessarily religious men, and they fought hard to create, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "A wall of separation between church and state." George Washington and James Madison didn't take much interest in religious matter and leaned toward deism. Madison once implied that religion encourages superstition, bigotry, and persecution. Whenever George Washington mentioned our maker in a public address, as he occasionally did, he was careful not to use the word "God." He would use other names like "Great Author" or "Almighty Being." I have also read that when George Washington died, no religious words were uttered.
"Ok," said the man. "We still have under God on our coins, and God is in our pledge of Allegiance. Our founders must have thought that it was important to institutionalize God."
Claudia gave a saintly smile. "Our Founders didn't institutionalize God. "In God", didn't appear on our coins until after the Civil war, and "Nation under God" wasn't inserted into our pledge of Allegiance until 1954."
"Let's get back to this business about us being a Christian Nation," continued Claudia. Do you remember reading about the Barbary Pirates?"
The man scratched his head. "Uh vaguely."
"Let me refresh your memory,' Said Claudia. "They are sung about in the Marine Corps Hymn. The Barbary pirates preyed upon American ships off the coast of Tripoli. They took Americans slaves, and demanded ransom from us. The US finally fought with them, and in 1797 concluded what was called the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 of the treaty contains these words:
"As the Government of the United states…is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Musselmen--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
According to an article by Brooke Allen, President John Adams signed this document. The Senate ratified it and the vote was unanimous."
The man got up to leave "You sure seem to know a lot of stuff, but the majority of people here are still Christians. I think that we still should be considered a Christian nation."
"It's true," said my wife; "that the majority of people in this country claim to be Christians, but that still does not make our country a Christian Nation. If we were a "Christian Nation" then church leaders, instead of politicians, would run the country. Our Constitution gives us the right to worship or not worship as we choose."
Claudia smiled and said: "I read that John Adams once while addressing a group of students expressed admiration for the Roman system, whereby every man could worship whom, what and how he pleased. When his young listeners objected that this was paganism, Adams replied that it was indeed, and laughed.
The man started waking toward the exit.
Claudia stepped in front of him. "Let me ask you one question before you leave. If you believe that we are a Christian Nation, which Christian denomination do you think should be in charge of our government? Catholic? Orthodox? Protestant? If you think it should be Protestant, what flavor do you think we should have?"
He didn't answer.
I enjoy my church, and I gain comfort from my faith. I also believe in the Constitution of the United States, and the rights that are attached to that document.
God bless America, and God bless our freedoms, and best of all, God bless our right to worship as we choose.