Did the U.S. Constitution establish America as a “Christian nation”? During his bid for the presidency, John McCain said it did. No doubt new candidates in the campaigns for the 2012 elections will say the same. And they wouldn’t be alone. Many Americans believe the Constitution established the country as a Christian nation. But is it true?
Historian John Fea tackles this question in his new book, “Was America founded as a Christian nation?” Yesterday, we discussed his evidence about the founding fathers’ Christian beliefs and practices. What does he say about the Constitution? Is it a Godless document?
“If we define ‘godless’ as the absence of any reference to God or the Christian religion in the text,” he says, “then the answer would be an unqualified yes. The Constitution was written to be a frame for a government, not a treatise on the relationship between Christianity and the state. It never declares the United States to be a ‘Christian nation,’ nor does it set forth any specifically Christian ideals.” For those reasons, ratification was opposed by those who wanted this founding document to proclaim the new republic as a Christian nation.
Nonetheless, the Constitution has taken on the status of a sacred document in American life. Even if God is not mentioned in it, Fea says, many Christians think “its framers were blessed by God.” God inspired the framers, and thus God’s will is known in the document itself.
But William Lloyd Garrison, the 19th century abolitionist and journalist, pointed to a glaring non-Christian principle in the original Constitution: In an unholy accord between North and South, it permitted slavery.
Today, so-called “originalists” (like many of our sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices) treat the Constitution with a reverence that approaches Biblical inerrancy—completely and literally true, without error. Jurists on the other side see it as a “living Constitution”—a human document written with human hands. As such, it is subject to amendment. The prime example is the Thirteenth Amendment that ended slavery. (Care to read more on this? Here’s an earlier column on originalism versus the living constitution.)
What’s your opinion?
Is the U.S. Constitution divinely inspired?
If so, how do you see God in it?
If not, do you see a William Lloyd Garrison-type flaw?
(Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)