Christian America?: What Evangelicals Really Want

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The item may have some signs of cosmetic wear, but is fully operational and functions as intended. This item may be a floor model or store return that has been used. See details for description of any imperfections. Skip to main content. Christian America? About this product. Stock photo. Pre-owned: lowest price The lowest-priced item that has been used or worn previously.

Text will be unmarked. May show some signs of use or wear. Will include dust jacket if it originally came with one. Satisfaction is guaranteed with every order. See details. Buy It Now. Add to cart. Be the first to write a review About this product. They have no intention to use it to build a case to re-Christianize America; they are only answering an interview question with what they consider a factual answer.

Probably the majority do recall fondly a bygone era of simple faith and moral consensus--whether with historical justification or not--and in an ideal world they would like to have that again. But very few evangelicals are this naive.

Even the more romanticizing ones know full well that the past cannot be resurrected, that the world is different now. As a nondenominational woman from Michigan observed: The people who founded this country believed there was a Creator God, and many of the institutions--Harvard, Princeton, and so on--were started by Christian people. Not that everyone who has immigrated here is a Christian. Now we've become more of a melting pot. To try and go back and to force Christianity upon these institutions I don't believe can occur now. Even among the evangelicals for whom the "majority of faithful Christians" definition of "Christian America" does logically support a Christian Right agenda, not many are seriously prepared to act on that idea for very long.

For a more basic and compelling evangelical logic inevitably intervenes. In the evangelical worldview, the only valid way to regenerate that bygone Christian era--for more people to become devoted Christians and practice their beliefs and morals in a way that will revive America--is for more people to decide personally and voluntarily to follow Christ. No evangelical thinks you can externally manufacture faithful Christian living, especially not through political means.

They maintain, rather, that Christian faithfulness only comes through believing the gospel and "committing one's life to Christ as personal Lord and Savior," and that this is accomplished through conversion of one individual at a time. In the evangelical worldview, the logical consequence of this meaning of "Christian America" is that Christians must invest in more evangelism, revivalism, and church planting. For political activism can never produce a majority of faithful Christians; only an individual and personal "saving knowledge of Jesus Christ" can. This helps to explain why, although Christian Right rhetoric does hold a certain initial appeal for some evangelicals, in the long run it cannot and does not mobilize strong, sustained evangelical political activism.

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Principles of Government. The third most regularly mentioned meaning of "Christian America" was the belief that the basic laws and structures of the U. About 30 percent of the evangelicals we interviewed suggested this meaning. Though people often were not particularly articulate about which laws and structures embody which principles, the view was somewhat widespread and similarly articulated nonetheless.

A Presbyterian woman from North Carolina, for example, noted, "America was established as a Christian nation; politically the foundation was to be a Christian nation. We were established to have the Bible as the center, as our guidebook, and to recognize it as an important part of our country's life. The first leaders of this country were Christian, and [so were] the things that they wrote. Isn't this an unvarnished admission that what evangelicals want is essentially a Christian-based state? But though this interpretation may be accurate in the case of some, most evangelicals do not even want Christianity to be America's established religion--much less want America to be a formal Christian state.

They fully believe in the American system of liberal, representative democracy. A careful reading of our interview discussions reveals that many interviewees defined "Christian nation" in terms of representative government and the balance of powers. A Bible Fellowship man from Pennsylvania, for example, claimed that "The idea of having a balanced government with the three branches--the executive, legislative, and judicial--that original theory was something that was derived from a scriptural passage.

She answered, "Biblical principles on right and wrong, our judicial system--just the whole idea of democracy and republican form of representative government. It was pretty radical back then, and a lot of it came straight out of the Bible. It allows us to have, for one thing, an understanding that people are evil, so we need other people to help kind of keep us on track. So there's checks and balances established on a real good foundation. Because there was an understanding that there should be no king but Jesus, they set it up so that any person would have a difficult time taking over.

So [it was Christian] I think from the standpoint of the setup of government. Most of these evangelicals, then, appear to be baptizing the American system of government with Christian legitimacy more than seeking to reconstruct American government according to specific and exclusionary Christian principles--whatever those might be. Even so, we should remember that not all conservative Protestants agree with this idea either. More than a few evangelicals would concur with the self-identified fundamentalist man from Oregon who said: I don't consider Christianity to be a governmental form.

Not all of our forefathers were Christians. They were setting up a country that allowed people of different belief systems a place to live. No, I don't think the United States is a Christian country. It wasn't set up to be that. It was set up to be a free country where people of all beliefs could come. Theistic Founding Fathers. The fourth most frequently mentioned meaning of "Christian America"--the last quote notwithstanding--was that most if not all of America's "founding fathers" were theists who prayed and sought God's will for the nation.

Slightly less than 30 percent of the evangelicals we interviewed offered this as evidence that America was once a Christian nation. As with the preceding meaning, most evangelicals who mentioned this were not very specific about details. They often mentioned it as if it were folk wisdom that they assumed was widely known and understood.

At the same time, of all of the meanings of "Christian America" offered in our interviews, this one seemed the most closely connected with the information outlets of conservative Christian activists. Interviewees often mentioned that they had heard this idea taught by James Dobson, James Kennedy, Peter Marshall, or others through a Christian radio program, television program, video, or book. Some of the other leaders were not Christian, but they believed in biblical values. I've been reading Dr. Kennedy's book about the founding fathers, and it seems to me they all sound like they are all Christian.

You look at all of our founding fathers, and they admitted that if our government wasn't founded on Jesus Christ, on him being Lord and Savior, that this land wouldn't survive, it wouldn't work.

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All of them believed that. It's in their writings. Many, such as one woman from California who attends an independent charismatic church, mixed together the Pilgrims and key Revolutionary War leaders: "When the people got off the Mayflower, they fell on their knees on the beach and dedicated this land to God, and they lived their Christianity. And all of the great leaders of this nation--George Washington and all of those--were Christians.

It's proven by their own letters and statements. Even Thomas Jefferson in his writings--he said he believes in God. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln talked about depending on the wisdom of the Lord and so forth. I think it was intended to be a nation under God. Some pointed to the founding fathers' devotional piety, [note 7] others to their biblical erudition, [note 8] and yet others to their dedication to the idea of a public role for religion.

Anyone familiar with evangelical beliefs cannot help but notice the "curve" by which evangelicals grade many of these founding fathers spiritually. In other contexts, there is a clear and firm standard for defining who is a Christian: an individual must repent their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior by faith. Neither a general belief in God, nor a moral lifestyle, nor public church attendance, nor external expression of religiosity alone is good enough for evangelicals to count someone as a real Christian.

Yet when it comes to America's founding fathers, many evangelicals become uncharacteristically lenient, willing to share their bed, for example, with Enlightenment deists. They are impressed that Jefferson believed in a supreme being. They are satisfied that some otherwise morally questionable founders at least apparently believed in "biblical values. For the company of revered forefathers, many evangelicals considerably lower the bar in determining genuine Christian faith. At the same time, some evangelicals are more discriminating. For example, a Congregational man from Massachusetts argued: Some Christians rant and rave about revisionist history which says the founding fathers weren't Christians.

If they weren't Christians, they weren't Christians.


  1. Christian America? by Christian Smith - Paperback - University of California Press.
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  3. Virtual Environments and Scientific Visualization ’96: Proceedings of the Eurographics Workshops in Monte Carlo, Monaco, February 19–20, 1996, and in Prague, Czech Republic, April 23–25, 1996.
  4. Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power!
  5. The Irreligious Now Outnumber White Evangelicals in America?
  6. Twelve Judo Throws and Tsukuri?
  7. Christian America? : What Evangelicals Really Want by Christian Smith (2000, Hardcover).

And a lot of the principles the country was based upon don't seem to be ones we're supposed to be really involved with anyway. It wouldn't faze me too much if I found out things weren't as Christian as we thought they were. But I think a lot of our founding fathers--I think this is a misconceived idea.

A lot of our founding fathers were not Christians. But that tradition has been carried on throughout generations and right up to today. But when you look at some of these people, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison--I just happen to read Christian history--I mean there is some respect [for Christianity]. They wouldn't come out and say, "I don't believe. Once again, on this matter, as on most, there is a diversity of views within evangelicalism. Christian "Principles" and "Values. The nebulous terms "principles" and "values" were used in slightly less than 20 percent of our interviews.

One nondenominational man from Illinois, for example, noted that "There are certainly a lot of strong principles that the country was founded on that seem to be tied into the foundation of the country. They were very strong in their faith and wanted men and women to do something about it.

There's a very strong background on faith for that. Indeed, some seemed to studiously avoid specifying what founding Christian principles and values meant, even when we probed. One Congregational man from California, for example, argued, "It was founded on Christian principles, with a Christian mindset. I can't say it was Christian per se, but it had a Christian influence in the start, and they had Christian principles.

It seemed to have a moral direction from the start about what was right. The founding fathers seemed to have a real strong sense of direction--that point of view. Some, such as one woman attending a seeker-oriented mega-church in Georgia, spoke of principles in connection with governmental accountability to God: "America was a nation based on Christian principles.

At one time, we held to a Christian standard. And God has said, 'This is the way I want you to live and here's how the government should be run.

Conservative Evangelicals Have Shown Me Who They Really Are

They believed they needed to find [common moral standards]; a lot of them accepted the Ten Commandments as a basis for going on. For many interviewees, the "principles and values" approach seemed to be a way to affirm the reality and importance of "Christian America" without turning to the more specific "majority of faithful Christians" or "theistic founding fathers" definitions.

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It allowed people to acknowledge that many early Americans and forefathers were not faithful Christians, yet still assert that in some fundamental way America was nevertheless Christian. What was Christian was not America's people or its leaders so much as its basic principles and values. A man from California who attends an independent evangelical church, for example, stated, "I wouldn't say it was ever all Christian, as I believe that is up to the individual.

But it was definitely founded on Christian principles and values. Theoretically, this incongruity should be disquieting for evangelicals. One woman from Georgia attending an independent evangelical church did express ambivalence about the tension between the believed historical influence of Christian "values" and the admitted lack of personal commitment and morality in early Americans: I don't believe there wasn't sin going on or people weren't running around doing everything they are doing nowadays.

They just pretended; it wasn't as accepted. So I think maybe Judeo-Christian values were held up more as the norm than they are now. Values like what? Fidelity, honesty, integrity--character qualities that nowadays we seem to overlook. I'm sure it was more hypocritical [in the past].

Here, juxtaposed, are the views that Christian moral values were normative in the past while contemporaries have abandoned these important standards, and that earlier Americans were hypocritical, merely pretending in public to live by those values. However, most evangelicals who stressed the "principles and values" meaning of "Christian America" did not express concern about this tension.

Acceptable Public Expression of Religion. Finally, the sixth and least frequently reported meaning of "Christian America" offered by the evangelicals we interviewed was that in America's past the public expression of religious symbols and customs was deemed normal and acceptable. This "public expression" definition of "Christian America" was mentioned in about 12 percent of our interviews.

One Evangelical Free woman from Minnesota, for example, reflected, "When I think of a Christian nation, I think of one that's Bible--based, you know--the Ten Commandments on the wall of every school, you say the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer. You know, Laura in Little House on the Prairie--they read the Twenty-Third Psalm before school started, and that teacher got paid by the state. That was the way back when it was founded. They always started everything in prayer. They proclaimed that they were Christians. Today you can't pray or talk about God, you can't hang pictures and don't have a nativity scene, you can't have any display of religion--of Christianity, I should say.

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You can have displays of other religions. Central to this definition of "Christian America" is the concept of Christian symbols explicitly displayed in or on official and public spaces, rituals, and documents. One Evangelical Free man from California said, "America was probably more of a Christian nation back in the original times because of the extent that God was mentioned in things like the Constitution--things like that. A Baptist man from New York, for example, expressed the same sort of affirmation and qualification we noted previously: "It certainly was founded by men who believed in God.

Whether they actually wanted to serve Him completely or not is another question. But at the same time, certainly the founders of the Constitution included God in the preface [Preamble] and so forth. What can we say about these various connotations of the phrase "Christian America"? How does this parsing of meanings help to answer the larger questions of this study? In keeping with the theme of diversity and complexity emerging in this chapter so far, we see that "Christian America" is not a single concept around which evangelicals can rally in unison. It has different meanings--or combinations of meanings--for different evangelicals, some of which are incongruous with others.

For some, "Christian America" means religious freedom; for some it means a governmental structure of checks and balances; for others it means lots of faithful Christians in the population; for still others it means a small group of well-known historical leaders speaking and writing about the Creator, prayer, and morality; and for yet others it means religious references on political documents, regardless of the degree of Christian faithfulness of the authors.

Two of these meanings theistic founding fathers, public expression of religion can lend themselves to a justification of Christian cultural hegemony; two religious freedom, principles of government seem to imply instead an emphasis on liberty and pluralism; and two majority of faithful Christians, principles and values can be interpreted variously. In other words, the belief that America was once a Christian nation does not necessarily mean a commitment to making it a "Christian" nation today, whatever that might mean. Some evangelicals do make this connection explicitly.

But many discuss America's Christian heritage as a simple fact of history that they are not particularly interested in or optimistic about reclaiming. Further, some evangelicals think America never was a Christian nation; some think it still is; and others think it should not be a Christian nation, whether or not it was so in the past or is so now. It is a mistake, then, to presume that all talk of a "Christian nation" is a sure rhetorical indicator of the desire or intention to reestablish Christian domination of society, culture, and politics.

The reality is more complex than that. The Almost Unanimous Evangelical Solution Perhaps the most surprising yet most consistent theme that emerged on the topic of "Christian America" in our interviews had to do with the proper Christian response to the loss of American's Christian heritage.

The almost unanimous attitude toward those who the evangelicals see as undermining this heritage was one of civility, tolerance, and voluntary persuasion. This near--consensus response can be elaborated into eight major beliefs. With regard to nonevangelicals Christians should 1. Some evangelicals clearly did not share this approach.

Some thought that Christians should use the political system to marginalize secular forces in society. Others confessed to anger and hostility toward their cultural antagonists. But these were small minorities. The great majority of ordinary evangelicals we interviewed were definite in their support for these eight beliefs. Christians should focus first on being faithful in their own lives.

Primary focus on one's own integrity is linked to a number of other important evangelical beliefs. Some people, like one charismatic man from North Carolina, were very concerned with avoiding hypocrisy--"practicing what they preach"--in order to set a good example: The message of Jesus is love. Wouldn't it be more appropriate for all of us to work more towards that ideal in our own lives before we start taking it out, you know?

Shoving it down the throats doesn't do any good. We can graciously invite, but that's different. Others, like one Congregational man from Massachusetts, made a theological distinction between the things of the church and the surrounding world, and noted the difference in moral expectations that this entails: "The church's responsibility is not to make society as Christian as possible, but to be the church, to be a witness, true to itself and obedient to God. The idea that we can just get as many Christian senators as possible and push issues that we consider Christian gives us a false sense that things are more Christian than they are.

We should be concerned about that in the church, but in a certain sense there's no spiritual value in it. I don't think the church should be out there trying to get people to live like Christians if they're not. The Bible does tell us to defend the oppressed and voiceless.


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