One of the common themes I’ve been working through on my blog recently is Christianity’s place in America and America’s place in Christianity.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how America was built on the premise of freedom of religion. Everyone will nod their head yes, because this is an obvious thing everyone acknowledges, although in practice it really hasn’t been that way as (certain forms of) Christianity have long received preferential treatment in our country.
A brief look through history will show that anytime a religious group (including Christian) comes to power in a nation, bad things result. After all, those Puritans that Christians like to point to as fleeing religious persecution to come to the New World and begin what became a Christian nation were absolutely fleeing religious persecution… from a Christian government.
I’ve also written about how Jesus made it quite clear that He was not focused on earthly political power but commanded His followers to pursue something much greater in bringing about the Kingdom of God.
So with that caveat announced and essentially undermining my entire premise for this post, I’d like to ask the question and consider some ideas of what a Christian nation on this earth would look like. Since we’re called to pursue the Kingdom of God, let’s consider its values and imagine our nation:
We’ll start with Jesus’ Beatitudes as found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 6. Jesus singles out for blessing the poor, hungry, hurting, and oppressed for blessings, suggesting they receive prime consideration and reward in this kingdom. Further, He speaks very harshly about the rich, gluttonous people who receive nothing but praise.
A few verses later, Jesus commands His followers to love their enemies. He says to give to everyone who asks you, turn the other cheek when someone strikes you, and pray for those who mistreat you. He follows that up by commanding us not to judge others and instead offer forgiveness, focusing on perfecting our own thoughts and deeds before considering the thoughts and deeds of others. In fact, Jesus commands us to forgive endlessly (Matthew 18:22).
While our nation has many laws, a hypothetical Christian nation could have a single two-part command at its core: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and will all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). We can look to the parable of the Good Samaritan to see both who counts as our neighbor (hint: everybody) and what it looks like to love them (hint: offering time, money, and genuine concern to ensure their well-being).
Jumping briefly to the words of Paul, who wrote a huge portion of what constitutes the New Testament in our Bibles, everyone is equal in this kingdom. And I don’t mean in the same way America has it professed in the Declaration of Independence but has never actually supported equality. According to Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Along with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan making it clear that everyone is our neighbor, Paul’s words encompass every human on earth and casts out any differentiation between them. Even children receive esteem in this nation, as Jesus announced that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). We are all truly equal.
Building on this level of equality and command to love everyone, our nation would have no military. Not only did Jesus command us to turn the other cheek when struck, but He also rejected any sort of armed attempt to prevent His arrest, stating that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:53).
Looking at how Jesus conducted Himself, we also see a man who never turned someone away from receiving healing. While that does not directly translate to health care, based on His own deeds and His command to love and meet the needs of everyone, I believe our Christian nation would seek to provide the best possible health care for all people with no concern for expense.
And on the topic of expense, Jesus famously proclaimed that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Combined with His words about the poor being blessed and His regular criticism of the wealthy, we see a society that places much greater value in generosity than financial power.
While I’m sure people often think of the idea of a “Christian nation” and imagine lots of church buildings and people adhering to the same exact set of beliefs, Jesus doesn’t address that in His words or in His life. Instead, He lived a life of generous, sacrificial love and called His followers to do the same. He told them to preach the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near, to bring healing and love to everyone they encountered. There was no focus on a perfect theology and, following His death and resurrection, no exclusion of people from other faiths. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be community gatherings to learn more about God and seek better theology, but the focus on living out the love of Christ would be the most obvious aspect of this culture.
We see that in Matthew 25, when Jesus talks about separating sheep and goats and explains that everything we do for and to “the least of these,” we do for Him. He specifically mentions fulfilling needs for food, drink, lodging, clothing, health, and care for those in prison.
One of my favorite Jesus quotes comes in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The command is to live out a love so beyond human nature, that those who see it and are impacted will have no other response than to acknowledge that something greater is at work in your life.
Finally, Jesus tells us that “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). A Christian nation means one that at its core and in an existential sense is devoted to follow Christ. And that means love, not how we define it now, but a sacrificial love that truly gives everything as Jesus did when He died for us. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16).
Tying all these things together, a Christian nation would balance consideration of the impact on everybody and everything rather than prioritizing the desires of the wealthy (or one nationality or skin color). I believe this extends to care for the land as well, as upon creation we were given dominion to care for the land on which we live (Genesis 1), and environmentally irresponsible choices disproportionately harm lower-income groups of people (not to mention animals, who are also God’s creation).
While this nation sounds wonderful to all who are living in poverty, sickness, and suffering, it very much does not align with most of America’s priorities. Especially since Jesus never focused on gaining political power, it makes sense that we see a fundamental disconnect between His commands and the actions of governing authorities even when they profess Christianity.
We will never see a Christian nation on this earth, because Christianity is not about temporal nations. But we should consider all of these things each time we evaluate whether to support certain candidates and policies in the country in which we live. And most of all, let us seek to live out the commands of Christ in our communities and bring about the kingdom of Heaven regardless of the state of our nation.