We Need a Religion that Unites

That was the dream of the founders. Ben Franklin stopped going to hear the Presbyterian pastor, Jedediah Andrews, because the printer believed Andrews’ turned his hearers not into good citizens but good Presbyterians:

Tho’ I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He used to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administrations, and I was now and then prevailed on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday’s leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforced, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens.

Serious Presbyterians (and other Protestants) may not have agreed with Franklin’s civil religion (though at the Revolution Presbyterians turned out in force for generic and patriotic devotion), but in today’s debates about the nation and its identity Franklin dominates. Consider a couple examples of how the word “Christian” obscures differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants who would have had very decidedly different estimates of each other and the nation in 1790.

James Conley, the Bishop of Lincoln, NE, thinks we need to return to the vision of the founders:

If the American experiment is to survive, it needs Christianity—and the influence of all religious believers. And if our legal system is to survive, it needs your influence. Our obligation is to work to restore a sense of the common good and a sense of the transcendent in American public discourse. If law continues to be an agent of self-interest, we will see more instances of religious persecution and family disintegration. On the other hand, if law helps us to identify, proclaim, and seek a common good, then we will have turned the tide and served the vision of the Founding Fathers.

But why would a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church ever be satisfied with the Christianity of a bunch of patriotic Presbyterians and skeptically Protestant statesmen? That seems a long way from what Rome taught then and now about the nature of Christianity.

Mark David Hall in similar fashion glosses differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants to talk about the influence of Christianity (could he mean Eastern Orthodoxy?) on the founding:

I believe that this is the most reasonable way to approach the question “Did America have a Christian Founding?” In doing so, it is important to note that nominal Christians might be influenced by Christian ideas, just as it is possible for an orthodox Christian to be influenced by non-Christian ideas. I believe that an excellent case can be made that Christianity had a profound influence on the Founders.

Before proceeding, I should emphasize that I am not arguing that Christianity was the only significant influence on America’s Founders or that it influenced each Founder in the exact same manner. Clearly there were a variety of different, but often overlapping, intellectual influences in the era. The Founders were also informed by the Anglo–American political–legal tradition and their own political experience, and like all humans, they were motivated to varying degrees by self, class, or state interests. My contention is merely that orthodox Christianity had a very significant influence on America’s Founders and that this influence is often overlooked by students of the American Founding.

But which Christianity? Doesn’t a historian have to do justice to the antagonism that has evaporated but that used to make Protestants and Roman Catholics suspicious (if only) of each other, and which led the papacy to condemn accommodations of Roman Catholicism to the American setting?

And so what always happens to biblical faith in the pairing of religion and public life continues to happen: Christianity loses its edge and becomes a generic, pious, inspirational goo. Even the Seventh-Day Adventists are worried about losing religious identity while gaining public clout.

One of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s most famous sons, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is seeking evangelical support for a likely 2016 presidential bid. But the global leader of his church worries that the thriving denomination is becoming too mainstream.

In 2014, for the 10th year in a row, more than 1 million people became Adventists, hitting a record 18.1 million members. Adventism is now the fifth-largest Christian communion worldwide, after Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and the Assemblies of God.

Meanwhile, Team Religion doesn’t seem to notice that religion divides believers from unbelievers (as well as serious believers from other serious and not-so-serious believers). You gotta serve somebodEE.


22 thoughts on “We Need a Religion that Unites

  1. It also gets sticky when you have some serious believers that think that orthodox Christianity is geographically and materially represented by a town in Italy.


  2. Also, if the Christianity of the Founding Fathers is part and parcel with the Roman Papas, then doesn’t it get even stickier when you have to explain that you two competing City on a Hills?


  3. Thus speaketh PO:

    Obama had a more non-denominational message for the audience that also included prominent leaders of non-Christian faiths. The president said that while religion is a source for good around the world, people of all faiths have been willing to “hijack religion for their own murderous ends.”

    “Unless we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Obama said. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
    “So it is not unique to one group or one religion,” Obama said. “There is a tendency in us, a simple tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”
    Obama called for all people of faiths to show humility about their beliefs and reject the idea that “God speaks only to us and doesn’t speak to others.”
    Jordan’s King Abdullah II canceled plans to attend the breakfast after Islamic State militants released a video this week showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned to death. In his place, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Wisc., offered prayers for Jordan and read the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan who saved a stranger who had been beaten and left for dead. source


  4. You knew this was coming.
    We have a common public religion in America.
    It’s called secular humanism and its churches are the public schools.


  5. Didn’t Protestantism sort of put Christian civilization in the balance? Oh, I see. We’re talking about Judaeo-Christian Christian civilization:

    I used to speak of a moral and spiritual vacuum that was created by the catastrophic loss of discourse in terms of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in the public place. I think that vacuum is now giving way to a hostility to the Judaeo-Christian worldview, in terms of family, respect for the beginning stages of life, and respect for the end of life.


  6. Oh those Bush boys believing they’re united. Maybe they are: Jeb’s a synergistic C’lic and G dubs a synergistic “Prot”.


  7. Hi all– Just another friendly reminder (which I’ve posted on some relevant threads). Some of you have been referring to me by name in threads, even apparently arguing with me, without me knowing or interacting in anyway. Did you think “a.” is me? It’s not, nor do I know (or care) who it is. Hopefully he/she is a great person who loves Christ, his Word and church.

    Look. Y’all look crazy enough without arguing with people who aren’t even on here… If for some reason you think I’m off in life or doctrine, just address me somewhere I actually interact.

    twitter: @shane_a7 or @reformation101

    With sincere affection and intermittent confusion– Shane


  8. “But which Christianity?” The one that disagrees with Franklin, obviously. To quote him as an arbiter of what constitutes good religion? I’d recommend Ross Douthat instead. OMG… he IS Catholic. But still. to act like a libertarian preference for less religion fits in even with a Machen mindset obscures the fact he would be grossed out by today’s morals. As would,most likely, Franklin. It’s a unique situation. I prefer the Bushes religion to Obama or Clinton’s modernism, quite simply. Despite any unforeseen fallout. I don’ t think Evangelical sharia law would be THAT bad, you know.


  9. “For Graham himself morality rested on Christian assumptions, but people did not have to be Christian to appreciate its relevance to their daily lives,” Wacker writes. “Moral theism resulted in common-sense guidance for normal living. Its vagueness lent itself to capacious and flexible application. It allowed Graham to address dilemmas of daily life in a way that crossed theological and sectarian boundaries. And it won wide audiences while alienating few.”



  10. Joe M, even Lyman Beecher:

    If [Roman Catholics] associated with republicans, the power of caste would wear away. If they mingled in our schools, the republican atmosphere would impregnate their minds. If they scattered, unassociated, the attrition of circumstances would wear off their predilections and aversions. If they could read the Bible, and might and did, their darkened intellect would brighten, and their bowed down mind would rise. If they dared to think for themselves, the contrast of protestant independence with their thraldom, would awaken the desire of equal privileges, and put an end to an arbitrary clerical dominion over trembling superstitious minds.


  11. to act like a libertarian preference for less religion fits in even with a Machen mindset obscures the fact he would be grossed out by today’s morals.

    But Tim Keller appears on NBC’s Morning Joe, Francis is the hottest thing since sliced bread on NPR, and Rand Paul is talked about in serious convos (not for president, but for his ideas).

    JGM would be out? Mebbe, but then again..mebbe not. I mean if TVD can approve of him….


  12. Christianity’s emphasis on our sinfulness should disqualify it from being chosen as the religion that unites. After all, such a religion relies on the flattery of its followers in order to unite people.


  13. Curt,

    Christianity’s … a religion [that] relies on the flattery of its followers in order to unite people.


    Help me.


  14. What united Christians in the 30 year wars and in the “defensive” struggle against Muslims was not Christianity but “medievalism” but the lust for Constantinianism is all gone now, so all we have left are Christians who happen to be snipers but not for “medieval” reasons. It’s just simple common sense and self-righteous moralism.

    On the other hand, what unites Muslims now is not modernity or a reaction to the hegemony of Christendom but being Muslims. There are no Muslims who happen to be snipers. There’s only Muslim snipers united.

    I try to be ironic, but then Fox news says amen….


  15. Curt, my bad, I misread your comment. You are saying a religion that focuses on sinfulness would not be one that unites.

    Thought provoking comment. Thanks, and sorry for the confusion.



  16. Andrew,
    I misread stuff all too often.

    As for my comment, my feeling is that it is easier for people to unite around something positive they share than in something negative. And by negative, I don’t mean some sort of suffering, I mean some trait that causes shame. This will become all too apparent when political campaigning starts again and candidates appeal for our support.


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