I don’t know who coined the term “Americhristianity.” I’ve seen it mentioned here and there on other blogs, and it seems to refer to a general conflation of “American values” with Christianity.
I have grown up in conservative Christianity, and while the “conservative” label is no longer important to me (though it probably still applies in many areas), “Christian” is. I’ve also grown up under a good deal of patriotism. This includes things like listening to patriotic music as a child, attending Memorial Day parades, Independence Day fireworks, and other things. All good things in their way.
But I think Americhristianity goes deeper than that. It is subtle and largely unnoticed, which is why it’s a term that is so rarely used. I would define it as a fundamental understanding of American loyalty and allegiance as being an inherent aspect of Christian faith, though I’m sure there are as many definitions as people who try to talk about it. I also doubt it is limited to conservatives, but that is the only “side” I can speak from experience on.
It seems to me that a lot of the principles that I and many others have subtly understood as falling under both the “American” and “Christian” umbrellas are based on a few faulty premises, including this one:
America was founded on Christian values, and therefore is a Christian nation.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this said or implied. I am less clear on which Christian principles, specifically, this is referring to. Surely it couldn’t be the principle of rebelling against the God-ordained king of England. I don’t remember reading anything in our constitution about our sinfulness and need for a savior, or about Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection. I assume it is making reference to the numerous mentions of “God” or “the creator” in America’s founding documents, but in that case, it seems just about any other theistic religion could fit the bill.
But when you internalize this idea that America has some degree of inherent Christianity about it, sometimes it’s easy to confuse the two, or to forget where one begins and the other ends.
Let’s consider the pledge of allegiance:
I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the republic
for which it stands,
with liberty and justice for all
I didn’t have to look up those words. I recited them every morning of every school day for many years, despite the fact that I didn’t set foot in a public school until I took the PSAT as a junior in high school.
I have recited these words aloud more often than any Bible verse, nursery rhyme, tagline, or other phrase that I can recall. I’ve recited them far more often in Christian homes, churches, and camps than in any government-run facility.
Look at the parts in bold. The allegiance we repeatedly pledge is being described as to a flag, and then to a republic. God is given lip service in the version that most of us still say (though “under God” was only added in 1954), but he is certainly not the one being pledged to. It seems to imply that by expressing our allegiance to the American republic, we are by default pledging to God too, since it is “under” him.
As a child, I remember many instances of uproar and panic among conservative Christians when anyone threatened to remove “under God” from the pledge (or from our money, or any other thing it was inscribed on). I still remember the controversy over the apparent omission of this phrase from the post-9/11 Dr. Pepper cans.
Why do we place so much importance on an American pledge, as if it’s a sacred document vital to our faith? As if the removal (or addition) of the “under God” phrase has any actual bearing on a person’s Christian faith? As if proclaiming our allegiance to a political entity (on church grounds, no less) is sanctioned by God simply because we throw his name in there?
(To clarify, I am not against the pledge itself–I would have less of a problem saying it at a government-overseen place or event–my issue is mixing it with church teachings.)
Right now, the world is in an uproar, and rightfully so, over attacks carried out by radical Muslims in Paris, Beirut, and other parts of the globe. This uproar is channeling itself into fear as millions of refugees from the Middle East make their way west, with some hopefully to be resettled in America.
As I look at this situation, and read the words people are expressing, I’m again struggling with my own Americhristianity, and sense others are too. I have come to realize that when faced with a question, sometimes the “political answer” and the “Christian answer” are different. For a long time, I was under the mistaken impression that the American political answer was the Christian answer–the two were so closely intertwined in my mind, because if this truly was a Christian nation blessed by God, then we must protect it (and therefore, ourselves) at all costs, right?
I am torn because I know that I owe a debt of gratitude to millions of American soldiers who fought for my freedom and still continue to do so today. And Jesus said that “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:3)
I am torn because we are wired for self-preservation, and even, to a certain extent, stereotypes. If a certain “type” of person hurts us, we remember things about them to help prevent it from happening again.
I am torn because in addition to protecting ourselves, we must protect our loved ones. I want my children to be safe, just like any other parent. Just like the millions of refugee parents making their way west, traveling through dangerous territories, not knowing where their children will sleep on any given night.
I am torn because I know Christians are and should be in American politics, and how do they weigh making decisions based on personal, faith-based convictions vs. protecting their own country? When does even well-meaning “protection” become an idol? I can decide to help feed and clothe and care for others, but how much power should the average person have to legislate others to do the same?
Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). He told us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), setting up a stark contrast to the way the political systems, including our American one, operate. He told us to do to others as we would have done to us (Luke 6:31).
He also said:
“If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6: 34-36)
So many of my long-held American principles seem directly at odds with those words.
I am having to learn to ask myself difficult, honest questions: “Is my attitude being formed more by my Christianity, or by my American heritage?”
And if my American heritage and my Christianity give different answers to the same question, then which one wins? Which attitude should trump the other?
Am I a Christian American or an American Christian?
If an American political candidate says they are a devout Christian, and opposes resettling Syrian refugees in our country due to safety concerns, do I still support them? What would I do in that situation? How do I best attempt to imitate the Christ who identified so strongly with “the least of these,” who said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”? (Matthew 25:40) How does a Christian politician decide which of Jesus’s commands should be legislated to the population at large, and which should be merely individual (and is there such a thing?)?
When do safety concerns become excuses? When does our desire to save our own lives become a refusal to lose it for Jesus’s sake? (Luke 9:24)
These are hard questions, and I’m certainly not wise enough to know the answers to all of them.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop asking.