Baptists debate notion of Christian America

It might surprise some to learn that conservative Southern Baptists disagree on the answers to these questions and have debated the topics vigorously.

While some say America’s Founding Fathers intended for the government to show an official preference for Christianity above other faiths, others argue that they meant for America merely to uphold religious liberty without government endorsement of any religion.

When it comes to whether America is a Christian nation today, opinions are again varied—with some insisting that the government should still exalt Christianity and others arguing that the label “Christian nation” is both inaccurate and inappropriate.

Was America a “Christian nation”?
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said that while the Founders granted freedom of religion to people of all faiths, they intended for America to regard Christianity as foundational to its national identity.

“The framers of the Constitution and the earliest American jurists demonstrated a clear preference for Christianity,” Jeffress wrote in his book “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.” “They did not hesitate to declare that America was a Christian nation. John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, referred to America as ‘our Christian nation.’”

The First Amendment of the Constitution does not demand that the government be neutral or hostile toward Christianity, Jeffress argued. Rather, it was intended “to guarantee that no particular denomination within Christianity would be elevated above other denominations to become a national church in which all citizens would be forced to worship.”

He quotes Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, a James Madison appointee, in support of the idea that the Founders intended to elevate Christianity above other religions in the nation’s institutions and among its citizens.

Story wrote in his “Commentaries on the Constitution,” “The real object of the [First] Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism [Islam], or Judaism, or infidelity by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.”

Jeffress added, &

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