Some weeks ago, this writer wrote an op-ed entitled, “America is a Christian Nation.” The response to the historical recitation of the irrefutable facts that only from Christianity came the three concepts essential to the creation of the American Republic was immediate and predictable. A common critique of this writer’s essay reflected the erroneous belief that Christianity has been an instrument of oppression and intolerance. Hatred of Christianity is one of the mainstays of the current anti-American ideology that permeates our society today. Mockery of Christians is also one of the core tenets of progressive culture. Far from being agents of oppression and anti-intellectualism, Christians have been the bedrock of social activism advancing liberty and equality, as well as promoting education reform, increasing literacy and publishing what is now called print media throughout modern history. It is patently false to claim that liberty and equality have only been advanced when America’s leaders embrace the progressive secular interpretation of American history and its rejection of the role of Christianity. The reality is that Christianity has been the heart of true social progress and major advancements in human liberty, equality, and democratic government.
The first public education law in American history was the 1647 legislation known to history as the “Massachusetts Old Deluder Law,” whose purpose was to provide that every community of 50 households or more must appoint someone to teach the children to read and write. The reason why it was essential that children be able to read and write was so they would be able to read and understand the teachings of the Bible. In the “Land Ordinance of 1785,” section number 16 was the “school section,” the revenue from which was to be used for public schools in keeping with the traditions of the Massachusetts law. Harvard University, founded in 1636, was founded to educate the clergy. Yale University, founded in 1701, was founded to provide religious training to Congregationalist ministers. Their Christian origins reflect the attitudes of early Americans that valued Natural Rights, government by the consent of the governed, and limited government. Contrary to progressive ideology, these early American Christians were convinced that citizens have a right, and perhaps even a duty, to resist tyrannical government. John Adams wrote that “Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” Christianity played a major role in the American Revolution by providing a moral sanction to resistance to the British; an assurance to the People that the revolution was justified in the eyes of God.
In the 1830s when Alexis de Tocqueville came to America to explore the reasons why American democracy had survived and the French Revolution had not, he declared that the religious beliefs and the morality of the American people prompted them to defend democracy and individual rights. He also speculated that if America ever lost its religious moorings, it would descend into a “soft” tyranny of the majority that would spell America’s doom.
The most common trope leveled against this writer’s thesis that America is a Christian nation is the tyrannical ignorant evangelical Christian. This stereotype has little basis in history or reality. The first opponents of slavery and proponents of abolition were the Church members of America. The first anti-slavery publication was by Reverend Samuel Sewall in 1700. Motivated by a vigorous religious faith, the Second Great Awakening was the fire that fueled anti-slavery and abolitionist politics in antebellum America. Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist church members were oftentimes the leading champions of liberty and equality for African Americans and indigenous Americans.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, churches were the bedrock of the movement. The Reverend Martin Luther King was the “conscience of America,” and his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” and his “I Have a Dream” speech appealed to the Christian values of the Nation and changed American history.
The progressive polemical, inaccurate, and misleading public presentation between Christianity and American politics must be confronted for the obfuscation and lie that it is. Far from the evil bogeyman and religion of oppression that the leftists of today claim, Christianity has been a positive force for good and the growth of liberty and equality. If America does not reach back into the heart of Christianity for its social movements and political agenda, it will degenerate into the despotism that John Adams feared.
John Fuller is a Republican state senator from Kalispell.
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