© Brian Alarid. All rights reserved. September 13, 2012
Was America founded as a Christian nation? That’s a good question. The answer might surprise you.
I believe we should always let the evidence speak for itself. The starting point for any discussion about America’s foundation must begin with our nation’s three foundational documents: the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It is significant that Christ, Christianity, and the Bible are not referred to in any of our nation’s foundational documents.
In fact, the US Constitution does not mention God at all, and only mentions religion once, prohibiting the practice of religion as a qualification for public office. The First Amendment guarantees every American the free exercise of religion—not just Christianity, but every religion. The Declaration of Independence refers to “the Creator” and “Divine Providence,” but not specifically to Christ.
Christianity has never been the official religion of the United States of America. Nor has it ever been state-sponsored like the Church of England in Great Britain. However, America does have a strong Christian heritage. Our nation was certainly shaped by Biblical values.
America was settled by the pilgrims, many of whom were Christians. They fled Europe because of religious persecution. The Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony, signed on November 11, 1620, states that their voyage was “undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith.”1
George Washington was a Christian, as were most of the signers of the Constitution. The 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787 are commonly referred to as the ‘Founding Fathers’. Thirty-nine of them also signed the Declaration of Independence.
Of the 55 delegates, 52 of them were members of Christian churches. 28 were Episcopalians, 8 were Presbyterians, 7 were Congregationalists, 2 were Dutch Reformed, 2 were Methodist, 2 were Roman Catholic, 2 were Lutheran, and only 3 were professed deists—James Wilson, Hugh Williamson, and Benjamin Franklin.2
John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, was a prominent Christian who later on in life became the President of the American Bible Society. Many of America’s most prestigious colleges and universities—including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton—were founded as Bible colleges to train pastors and leaders to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So what was the concern of the founding fathers with regard to religion? The framers of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights wanted to ensure that every American had the freedom to exercise religion according to the dictates of their own heart, regardless of which religion they chose to practice or not practice.
Many of America’s early settlers fled Europe because of religious persecution. They wanted to create a new nation where religious persecution would not be tolerated. Many of our founders were Christian, but they did not want to enforce Christianity upon anyone.
However, that does not mean they intended to suppress the role of religion and the church in public life. On the contrary, the church was the most celebrated and revered public institution in colonial America. References to the Bible and Jesus Christ were prevalent in public places and in legal documents, including proclamations by US Presidents and the Congress.
Although Christianity was the not the government-sponsored religion of the state, neither was America attempting to become a secular republic like France became during the French Revolution, when every reference to God and the Bible were removed from public life.
America was founded upon Biblical principles and values. Even some of the founding fathers who were deists, like Thomas Jefferson, valued the principles of the Bible and the role they played in the formation of the nation. Many of the original charters of the states implicitly seek not only to protect the freedom of religion, but to specifically promote the advancement of the Christian faith.
The first charter of the state of Virginia, granted in 1606 by King James I, states: “We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People…”3
Article 22 of the Constitution of Delaware required all officers to make the following declaration: “I, A. B., do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore, and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”4
The orders of the provisional government of the state of Connecticut in 1638-1639 commenced with this declaration: “… to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus who we now profess, as also the discipline of the Churches, who according to the truth of the said gospel is now practiced amongst us.”5
The US Supreme Court ruled in 1892 that America was ‘a Christian nation’. “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”6
The First National Thanksgiving Proclamation, signed by decree of the US Congress, November 1, 1777 states: “That it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance.” 7 It is clear that the majority of the early members of Congress worshipped Jesus Christ or they would never have included this statement in an official congressional decree.
Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States and a devout Christian made this observation: “A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.... America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the tenets of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”8
Sadly, as a nation we have forgotten our Christian heritage and forsaken our Biblical values. Our nation has become, in many ways, a secular and godless republic. Our only hope is to remember where we have come from and what it was that once made us great.
Historical evidence clearly indicates that America was not founded as a Christian theocracy, but as a republic with Biblical values and religious freedom for people of all faiths. From its inception, America has been a Christian nation—not by decree or mandate, but in heritage, values, and practice. Christianity has always been the primary religion practiced in America. Even to this day, about 85% of Americans identify themselves as Christians.
Well, where do we go from here? America has a strong Christian heritage, but whether or not we continue to be a Christian nation depends on us. Will you be the light of the world? Will you model Biblical values in your personal life? Will you help your generation discover the love and grace of Jesus Christ?
I, for one, believe America’s greatest days are ahead of us, not behind us. It is my earnest prayer and hope that America will once again become a “shining city upon a hill.”
1 Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Mayflower Compact. Online. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower_Compact [14 March 2012].
2 The Free Republic. How Christian Were the Founders? Online. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2450022/posts [20 March 2012].
3 Justia.com, US Supreme Court Center. Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States - 143 U.S. 457 (1892). Online. http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/143/457/case.html [15 March 2012].
7 Pilgrim Hall Museum. Thanksgiving Proclamation 1777 by the Continental Congress: the first national Thanksgiving proclamation. Online. http://www.pilgrimhall.org/GivingThanks3c.htm [14 March 2012].
8 Catholic Education Resource Center. Is America a Christian Nation? Online. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/politics/pg0040.html [20 March 2012].
- Brian Alarid is the Lead Pastor of Passion Church and President of Passion Leadership College. He has a Master's degree in Organizational Leadership from Regent University, and a Bachelor's degree in Theology. Brian has been married to Mercy for 16years and they reside in Albuquerque, New Mexico with their 3 children: Chloe, Colin, and Lauren.