A Christian Nation?: America's Failure to Reach A True Christian Standard
This is Part One in a series
In the United States, many have claimed that the U.S. is a Christian nation. From this viewpoint, many Conservative Evangelical Christians have developed a sense of nationalism, an ideology that exceeds patriotism. From this ideology, many Christians have placed the U.S. on top of every other nation. From this perspective, they have developed a great sense of pride; so much so, they will cheer on America in whatever it is doing because if they, a “Christian nation”, are doing something, then it automatically must be right. And yet, as we have seen time and time again, this is not the case; no, in fact, this “Christian nation” has endangered the lives of millions, including those professing Christ. It is from this U.S. ideology, with its acts of violence and cruelty, that many in the Church have suffered.
It is my current endeavor to deconstruct this false ideology, that has blinded multitudes of people from seeing America in its true form. In this five-part series, the reasoning behind the freedom of religion in colonial America, and the separation between church and state in autonomous America will be examined. In addition, the persecution between many Christian denominations in early America, as well as highlighting the individual persecutions against Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson will be looked at. Finally, we will go through the United States’ dealings with foreign countries, and how they have hurt the Church universal.
The Freedom of Religion and the Separation of Church and State
One of the most forwarded arguments for America being a Christian nation, is the concept of freedom of religion, in which the Church operated with full freedom. Many people believe that the rulers of America did this because they were kind-hearted Christians and that they wanted to see God’s Church flourish. This was hardly the case however. According to Winthrop S. Hudson, author of the book, “The Story of the Christian Church,” the real motivation behind this strategy was largely political and economic. Here is an excerpt from his book explaining this:
“The economic advantage to be gained from a policy of toleration was made explicit in instructions sent to Peter Suyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam. He was reminded that the prosperity of old Amsterdam was due in no small measure to the moderation of magistrates in dealing with religious dissent, with the consequence that ‘people have flocked from every land to this asylum,’ and he was informed that a similar policy should be pursued in New Amsterdam. ‘It is our opinion that some connivance would be useful, and that the consciences of men, at least, ought to remain free and unshackled.’ Similar instructions were sent by the Lords of Trade in London to the Council of Virginia: ‘A free exercise of religion … is essential to enriching and improving a trading nation; it should be ever held sacred in His Majesty’s colonies’ … Edward Seymour, Lord of the Treasury put it more bluntly … ‘Souls, [said] Seymour, ‘damn your souls; make tobacco.’”
Many, if not most, of the Founding Fathers of the independent country of the U.S. have been portrayed as Christian. Yet, as demonstrated before, their main concern was for the government to run as smoothly as possible. James Madison said this regarding the purpose of freedom of religion: “The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation between the Church and the State.” Thomas Jefferson said something similar when he stated: “We have solved … the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.” Regarding whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation, the Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were pretty blunt in stating their position: (Jefferson) “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law”; (Adams) “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Persecution Between Christian Denominations
In Colonial America, the colonies were not a safe haven for Christians as it has often been portrayed. On the contrary, the colonies could be some of the most dangerous places to be if you were a Christian. Baptists, Quakers, and Catholics were among the most persecuted.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for persistently returning to the city to stand up for their beliefs.” The magazine further stated that “from Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics (“Papists”) were anathema and were banned from the colonies, along with other non-Puritans.” Also, “in newly independent America, there was a crazy quilt of state laws regarding religion. In Massachusetts, only Christians were allowed to hold public office, and Catholics were allowed to do so only after renouncing papal authority. In 1777, New York State’s constitution banned Catholics from public office (and would do so until 1806).”
According to Stanford University, “Anglicans physically assaulted Baptists, bearing theological and social animosity. In 1771, a local Virginia (an Anglican colony) sheriff yanked a Baptist preacher from the stage at his parish and beat him to the ground outside, where he also delivered twenty lashes with a horsewhip. Similarly, in 1778, Baptist ministers David Barrow and Edward Mintz were conducting services at the Mill Swamp Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia. As soon as the hymn was given out, a gang of men rushed the stage and grabbed the two ministers, took them to the nearby Nansemond River swamp, and dunked and held their heads in the mud until they nearly drowned to death.”
Thomas S. Kidd, Professor at Baylor, records that “when Baptists of Sturbridge, Massachusetts refused to pay to support the Congregationalist Church, authorities imprisoned some of them for tax evasion, while from other Baptists they seized property including livestock, tools, pots, and pans.” Kidd further states that “during the 1760s and 1770s, more than thirty Baptist pastors were jailed for illegal preaching in the colony. Many more Baptists suffered violence and intimidation. Itinerant Baptist preacher James Ireland was among those arrested, but even jail time would not shut him up. His friends and supporters came to listen to him preach through the cell grate. Some of these were African American Christians, whom white authorities dragged away to be whipped. Ireland’s tormentors devised other means to keep him quiet — some burned noxious materials to drive away his audience. Some even urinated on him as he spoke to the crowd.”
The Persecution of Roger Williams
Roger Williams was an English Christian preacher and theologian born in 1603. Williams advocated for religious liberty, and fair treatment of the Native Americans. He also denounced how many Puritan communities forced their way of life on others. This conviction of his was typified in his statement, “Forced religion stinks in the nostrils of God.” He proclaimed that everyone has the God-given right to choose their own beliefs; he called it “soul liberty.” He further stated, “I affirm that [in keeping with] liberty of conscience…, that none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews, and Turks (Muslims) be forced to worship [in a certain way].”
He was also a staunch opponent of the theocratic political organization that existed among many of the denominations of his day. “Williams described the attempt to compel belief as ‘rape of the soul’ and spoke of the ‘oceans of blood’ shed as a result of trying to command conformity. The moral principles in the Scriptures ought to inform the civil magistrates, but Williams observed that well-ordered, just, and civil governments existed even where Christianity was not present.”
Williams advocated for the fair treatment of First Nation peoples, and said that English settlers had no divine claim to the Natives’ land – he believed that if the English were to have the land, then it would be given or sold by the Natives. This preaching later caused him to be exiled from Massachusetts in 1635. In the following year, Williams founded the city of Providence in Rhode Island. He died in 1683.
The Persecution of Anne Hutchinson
Anne Hutchinson was a contemporary of Roger Williams. Like Williams, Hutchinson denounced the legalistic view of Christianity from the orthodox Puritans in the American colonies. “The Holy Spirit illumines the heart of every true believer”, Hutchinson said. This viewpoint went contrary to the prevailing doctrine that stated the Church alone needed to teach Christians the secrets of the Bible.
Hutchinson held biweekly devotional meetings in which up to 60 people joined. In these meetings, Hutchinson criticized many of the Puritan preachers, except John Cotton, whose teachings she expounded upon. She drew much criticism of her doctrine, which went against established customs, and that she, as a woman, was teaching and preaching to men.
In 1637, both Cotton and Hutchinson were tried – Cotton’s charges of heresy were cleared, but Hutchinson was convicted and banished from the colony of Massachusetts. In 1638, she was excommunicated from the church, and she and her family moved to Rhode Island. In 1642, after her husband died, she moved her children with her to New York, then called New Netherland, where all her family, save one, were killed in a raid by warriors of the Siwanoy Nation at the beginning of Kieft’s War in 1643.
Based upon the previous historically accurate information, it should be well known, that the so-called Christian nation of America, has indeed dealt persecution against those of the Christian faith. Additionally, throughout the 1700s and early-to-mid 1800s, the advocacy of slavery against Africans, including Christian Africans, and the genocide of Native Americans was carried out in large part by those who called themselves Christian. It has been well documented throughout U.S. history: the persecution of people of color within the United States; including those of the Christian faith, have been enforced by those erroneously professing a Christian ideology of patriotism. There would be many more instances of persecution of Christians in America, that time and space do not allow for, in this current project. I hope this synthesis of information has given ample opportunity for the reader to gain better understanding of the oppression enforced by America – of both the colonies and the independent nation alike – towards Christians within her borders.
 Winthrop S. Hudson, The Story of the Christian Church, pg. 85 (1957).
 The American colonies were theocratic societies, where religion and politics were inseparable.
 McDougal Littell, The Americans Annotated Teacher’s Edition, pg. 55 (1998).
 Edward Rhymes Ph D., When Racism is Law and Prejudice is Policy, pg. 12 (2007).