There is a prevailing opinion in secularist circles that American Christians want to create a theocracy in this country. In fact, this has become quite a popular theme for fundraisers on the left. I would like to reassure our atheistic friends that for the vast majority of Christians, nothing could be further from the truth. You see, Christianity had its fling with theocracy centuries ago. It didn’t work out too well. From the time of Emperor Constantine to the rise of the modern nation state, the church wielded vast temporal power. This power only corrupted the church and diverted it from its true mission in the world: bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of the earth.
But what about all the right-wing talk of America being a Christian nation? Yes, there is definitely a sense in which America is a Christian nation. It is a nation founded on Christian principles and friendly to Christian practice. Most of the founding fathers were Christians. Their words and their actions were motivated by their faith. But they were wise enough not to establish a state religion. Nowhere is Jesus Christ explicitly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill Rights as he is in many of the colonial charters and constitutions. I am convinced this was no accidental oversight by the founders. Instead what we find are general Christian principles such as justice, freedom of conscience, and the equality of all men before God.
The founders never intended that the government, or anyone else, have the right to coerce an individual to believe and practice any particular religion. I don’t know of a single Christian today who would subscribe to such a notion. At the very core of evangelical Christianity is the idea that each individual must freely choose whether to follow Christ. A forced conversion is a false conversion and does no one any good whatsoever. In fact, forced conversion is a great evil and I repudiate all such efforts in prior centuries which were falsely done in the name of Jesus Christ.
I don’t support theocracy. I don’t know anyone who does. But I am alarmed at the efforts of some to expunge all Christian faith and expression from the public sphere. These efforts are unwise, unjustified, and unsupported by the history of this nation. In forbidding the establishment of a state religion, the founders did not intend to forbid Christian speech by those who hold office. In fact, we have two hundred years of precedent to the contrary. Of course in a Christian-majority nation there will be many officeholders who are Christians. Of course they will be motivated in their speech and their actions by their faith. But that’s a long way from creating a theocracy. This is still a nation of laws and it will remain so. The Christians in this country are as happy about that as anyone else. Christians came to this continent from Europe specifically to create such a society, where all citizens are subject to the rule of law, where they can participate in the democratic process, and where they are free to practice the religion of their choosing.