Putting a Point on Christian America

Would the United States possibly consider a bill comparable to the Jewish State proposal of Israel, which includes the following language:

The state of Israel is a Jewish and a democratic state. These two values are intertwined, and one does not outweigh the other. We promise equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, race or sex. At the same time, Israel is the nation-state of the Jews only. This combination between the the rights of the nation and the rights of the individual, serves as the central thread in all of Israel’s founding documents.

Try that for a Christian America:

The state of the United States is a Christian and a democratic state. These two values are intertwined, and one does not outweigh the other. We promise equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, race or sex. At the same time, the United States is the nation-state of Christians only. This combination between the the rights of the nation and the rights of the individual, serves as the central thread in all of the United States’ founding documents.

Would this kind of legislation make unsexy Americans happy?

Noah Millman, a Jewish-American of some variety, is not happy with Israel’s proposed legislation because it provides legal justification for a status quo that discriminates against Arabs:

It means that Arab citizens can be discriminated against in housing, including state-supported efforts to move Jewish citizens into Arab-dominated regions coupled with local discrimination to keep Arab citizens out of Jewish areas. That they can be discriminated against in education – most Arab citizens are educated in a separate school system from Jewish Israelis (actually, there are three official “streams” in Israeli education, secular state schools, Jewish religious state schools, and Arab schools, plus a large set of ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious schools that are outside state control but receive state support, plus a small smattering of independent schools, but now I’ve probably given too much information). And so forth. . . .

This, in my view, is the most tangible practical significance of the Jewish State bill: that it would provide a legal justification for upholding the legitimacy of the discriminatory aspects of the status quo when faced with legal challenge.

The point of bringing this up is not the situation in Israel (where a modified bill is pending). It is instead to wonder how far Christian advocates of a Christian America are willing to go in their national self-understanding. Should non-Christians face discrimination in housing and education? Or if America is about freedom of religion as so much of the contemporary opposition to gay marriage has it, how is it possible to insist on a Christian America?

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19 thoughts on “Putting a Point on Christian America

  1. Christian America and the New Deal:

    “Was the increase in state and presidential power under the New Deal consistent with Christian principles?” Surveying responses from this last year, it’s about 60 to 40 percent in favor of faith in the New Deal. Students praise the New Deal for taking up Christ’s mission to help the poor and disabled. They condemn it for usurping God’s authority. One person worried that the New Deal violated the separation of church and state. Another argued that it wasn’t Christian because it did not help protect minority rights. Finally, some were just thoughtfully unsure what to do with the question. For instance:

    Christian values teach us that work is an essential part of life and to be good stewards of our money. There are many people today who are taking advantage of the welfare and social security programs, but I don’t think I can argue against their existence. In life there must be balance. Good things can easily be used for evil purposes; it just depends on the intention of the user. God also commands Christians to take care of the poor, widowed, and orphaned, and the welfare programs in America are in some way helping us to fulfill that command. So it’s hard to say if the New Deal and bigger government is Christian or not, I think it depends on the specific situation.

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  2. Identifying Christian colleges and universities in Christian America:

    Put concisely: There are times when the discussion becomes the offense.

    Presumably there are some things within any organization that are not—and should not be—subject to deliberation and any discussion to the contrary simply betrays a telling lack of conviction. For example, would anyone expect the Anti-Defamation League to “discuss” whether or not Jews are human beings, worthy of the same dignity and rights as Germans or Iranians? Would anyone dare challenge the NAACP for its predictable reluctance to “deliberate” the Dred Scott decision’s definition of a black man?

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  3. O Lord, blessed be the Hungarian nation.

    A national avowal of faith:

    We, The Members of the Hungarian Nation, at the beginning of the new millennium, with a sense of responsibility for every Hungarian, hereby proclaim the following:

    We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian State on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago.

    We are proud of our forebears who fought for the survival, freedom and independence of our country.

    We are proud of the outstanding intellectual achievements of the Hungarian people.

    We are proud that our people has over the centuries defended Europe in a series of struggles and enriched Europe’s common values with its talent and diligence.

    We recognize the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood. We value the various religious traditions of our country. [mostly Catholic and Reformed]”

    Adopted in 2012. Far from perfect, but, interesting.

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  4. IDK, Newark – looks to me like St. Stephen is doing some slipshod work over there. Where’s the quality control?

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  5. Fact #2 about Hungary: The Hungarian parliament used Latin as their daily language until 1844. We’re approaching the limit of interesting things I can raise about Hungary.

    Muddy – all the Hungarians I know in my area think their government is socialist do not speak well of it. They are mildly surprised but mostly cynical when I mention the quotes above.

    CW – Then it sounds like Knoxville – I’ve heard it is a beautiful and cultured city.

    Tennessee, Tennessee, ain’t no place I’d rather be.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I spend most July 4ths in Hazeville NC, quite close to TN and GA. I love the area and get along well with the people. My maternal grandmother studied to be a teacher in Western Tennessee (Peabody/Vanderbilt).

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  6. This is a good post. It shows the strength of 2KT in that it challenges Christians about the problem of trying to gain a privileged place in society.

    I would add a term here used by American-Israeli activist Jeff Halper. He states that when a nation that relies on democratic processes is controlled by a group based on religion, ethnicity, or national identity as it gains privileged place in society, it should be called an ethnocracy. This is in contrast to a democracy where the nation is to belong to all of the people and not just a subset by virtue of a majority or near majority. An important point made by this definition is that democracy is more than just its processes.

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  7. Democracy… . Might be useful to remember that the U.S. of A. is a Constitutional Republic, and the the State Constitutions are structured likewise, as per Article 4, Section 4.

    “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”

    We, in our local, state and national politics, select from ourselves those who are to represent us in said political organizations.

    Of special note, our Republic is not to confused with other “republics” that in particular appeared post 1945 and called “The People’s Republic of (fill in the blank).

    I had family who experienced the Hungarian version ca 1946-1950, and when it came time to “vote”, the “guards” were there to make sure everything turned out a certain way… . “And you cannot say a thing.”

    In that “Republic”, the “government” proceeded to relieve my people of their food, farm tools, farm house, farm,… and then people, taken to Russia, and never seen again.

    So…which type of republic is user friendly to protect our life, liberty and property ?

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  8. Russell,
    It might be helpful to note that a representative republic is a kind of democracy. In fact, the words republic and democracy are sometimes treated as synonyms.

    It might also be helpful to understand that The Constitution was written in response to dissent and Shays Rebellion. In other words, The Constitution was written to maintain the status quo for the benefit of the wealthy some of whom were writers of The Constitution. So the response against a direct democracy, most of the founding fathers opposed a direct democracy, was for higher cause, safeguarding the property of the wealthy.

    In fact, one could understand the sentiment at least some of the founding fathers against democracy by reading James Madison’s expressed fears that elections in England would be opened to all classes. So Madison opposed opening the elections to all classes of people. Is that what you want with your distinction between a republic and a democracy? BTW, the comments made by Madison to which I am referring are recorded in the Constitutional debates.

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  9. Would she have right to advocate for Israel in Israel?

    A young Muslim woman has been elected as the head of the student arm of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel organization.

    Amna Farooqi, 21, a Pakistani American and a senior at the University of Maryland, says she loves Israel, cares deeply about Palestinians, and sees nothing contradictory in a Muslim advocating for the Jewish state.

    Growing up in a Muslim home in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., with a heavily Jewish population, Farooqi said she took on her family’s sympathy for Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. She also made many Jewish friends and grew comfortable in Jewish culture. She decided in college that she didn’t understand the Israeli viewpoint on the Palestinian crisis and immersed herself in Israel study courses, including a semester at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

    Farooqi came to see Zionism, the idea that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, as a universally applicable story.

    “I fell in love with Zionism because Zionism became about taking ownership over the story of one’s people,” she said in March. “It is about owning your future. How could I not respect that?”

    Is she Muslim or evangelical?

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  10. Americanista. Wild culture we’ve got here. I wish her the best. She could do some real good in that godforsaken state (Israel, not Maryland as much).

    It will be interesting to watch the American Muslim identity develop and see what they do here.

    How do you define Americanism, DG? How does your def compare to Leo XIII’s? Do you think it was a significant force much prior to the American Revolution?

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  11. Kevin, Americanism is not simply adapting to national realities. It is making those the norm and so conforming to them. Turning the U.S. into a chosen nation or making individualism the way to think about Christians are instances of Americanism.

    In my estimate, Rome’s problem throughout most of its history was to identify Christianity with a particular social order — ancient Rome, European Christendom. So the ultramontanists who didn’t like American Roman Catholicism were not necessarily free from their own Europeanism. But they did see ways that church life in the U.S. could compromise Rome’s convictions.

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  12. DG-

    How accurately do these points describe the cultural conditions which drove the OPC to be founded as separate from the PCUSA?

    “in matters of faith and of Christian life each one should be free to follow his own bent in the spirit of the large measure of civil liberty recognized in these days.” — CE summary of Testem Benevolentiae’s object of criticism

    Specific points-
    1. The Holy Ghost is more present in society now than ever before, so the Church doesn’t need to give as much spiritual direction
    2. As a result, natural virtues are more important than in the past, arguably eclipsing some traditional supernatural virtues
    3. Supposed “active virtues” are more appropriate for the US than supposed “passive virtues”
    4. Clergy and the consecrated religious have a limited view of the world, so aren’t equipped to lead intellectually
    5. Doctrine should be simplified and practice adapted to US culture.

    there are some among you who conceive and desire a Church in America different from that which is in the rest of the world. – Leo XIII, Testem benevolentiae

    Do you think Leo is correct that US cultural conditions generated these errors? That the P&R encountered basically similar issues from the same source? Where is the historical locus of the cultural driver creating the conditions (how much pre-rev and post-)?

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  13. Kevin, I see a strong affinity between the Americanists and Protestant modernists. Each were adapting the faith to America, but also to an America they thought on the cutting edge of the kingdom of God (maybe not as much for RC’s).

    So yes, the OPC was reacting to the project of adapting Christianity to American realities, but would not have put it in those particulars. Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism is much more a defense of historic doctrines than about how the church relates to culture.

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