This book came to my attention when I started following the blog of the Author John Fea. This is a topic that has intrigued me over the years and most recently with all of the talk taking place on Social Media about the fact, and I underline fact, that America was founded as a Christian Nation. If you are one who believes any discussion of America not being founded as a Christian nation is revisionist history then you might wish to stop reading at this point.
John Fea is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in History from Stony Brook University and an Master’s Degree in Church History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and teaches courses in Colonial and Civil War History.
As an Orthodox Christian I bristle against any notion that a nation would be founded as Christian since our country is not here on earth but the Heavenly Jerusalem so the notion of a Christian Nation is foreign to Orthodoxy. And we, Orthodox, have also the bad side of when religion and the secular state and too closely involved. As an American I bristle against the idea of America being a Christian Nation due to our sacrosanct idea of separation of church and state and freedom of religion. I was interested where the author was going to take us.
It is my understanding that the book was designed to be a textbook of sorts to be used in schools as well as churches, for discussion around the topic. It is broken down into several different chapters that walk us through the development of the idea of America and the founding documents. The author did clear up many of my ideas about the religious thought of our early founders but he also left me with many questions as any good book on this topic does.
The book is broken down into three sections, Part one, “The United States as a Christian Nation: The History of an Idea.” This section explores the idea of an American nation from 1789 to the present time. Part two, “Was the American Revolution a Christian Event?” This section backs the story up a little and sets the stage for the Revolution. This section spends time on the sermons that were preached and also looks closely at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Part Three, and in my mind the most valuable part of the book, focuses on the “Religious Beliefs of the Founders.” I say most valuable because I don’t think any discussion about Religion in the 17th and 18th century can happen without an understanding what religion meant and how they understood it. This section puts that question in context and clarifies some of my own questions.
The interesting thing for me was to read what the founders thought of non-Evangelical Christians. If the intent of the founders was to found a Christian nation it was a nation that would not include Roman Catholics and although the Orthodox were all but unknown at the time, my guess if they would feel the same about us, not truly Christians.
The book uses an amazing amount of primary documents and the footnotes and suggested readings alone are worth the price of the book for any serious student of America’s religious history.
I don’t want to give anything away but for me anyway, the answer to the question is a complex one and to say America was or was not founded as a Christian nation does a disservice to the founders. I believe that America was founded on Judeo Christian Ideals but that what the founders had in mind was a place where everyone could come and be free in mind and in spirit, and eventually in body. America is complex and to try and whittle it down to sound bites, again does a disservice to the founders.
In the end we each need to decide for ourselves the answer to this topic but to ask the question or to think otherwise is not “revisionist” or un patriotic in our thoughts. I like to think of America as place where religion is present, all religions, and that it influences how people think and how they act. That is the idea of America.