.Love Thy Neighbor?

The choice is either American values or Christian beliefs

Sixty-two percent of Republicans believe that America should be declared a Christian country, even though they also understand such a declaration would be unconstitutional. Christian nationalists do not believe in the separation of church and state. 

The National Conservative Manifesto, published by the Edmund Burke Foundation and signed by Mark Meadows, Ken Cuccinelli, Jim DeMint and other Republican leaders, is concerning. It declares, “No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition….”

It is remarkable that United States citizens wrote this, for America, their nation, is a constitutionally secular government, and through its 250-years it has not only “long endured,” it has thrived, to become in many ways the most successful nation in history.

The notion of America as a Christian nation is ironic. Core American values—freedom, equality and democracy—are not shared by Christianity as practiced by some.

America nominally guarantees freedom of belief, but Christianity frequently denies that freedom. Christians are required to believe revelation such as “…those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction…” Second Thessalonians 1:8-9. In short, if you do not “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus,” you are free to suffer forever. 

Dissenting with church dogma invites the label of heretic, subject to excommunication, which is, of course, the province of a church, but in our America the key distinction is that it has no civic function

In America, religious liberty, the right to hold and celebrate personal beliefs, is unrestricted. Churches, mosques and synagogues all exist in our country. But what happens when conservatives get their wish and the U.S. is a Christian nation? Do we return to “No Jews allowed” policies in some social organizations? Will we see signage at community centers, “No Muslims allowed”? After all, that is the sort of thing that was widespread when Americans would often say, We are a Christian nation.

Following decades of dedicated nonviolent struggle, entire groups of people who gained civil and human rights in our democracy and secular civil society are likely to lose those rights if the walls separating church and state fall as Christian nationalists want them to. Gay, lesbian, trans—they can expect harsh biased treatment and legal exclusions when we are once again a Christian nation. 

Loving same sex families can easily foresee sudden annulment of their married status and all that it involves. Doctors can return to the days of refusing medical care to some they decide are not deserving based on an identity that does not comport with their idea of a Christian nation. 

Religious liberty cannot be a right to religious prejudice. If we become a Christian nation, the stratification sought by Christian nationalists will recreate a much less egalitarian form of democracy, one that has taken 246 years of dedicated struggle to improve.

The Conservative Manifesto confirms this elitism. Hardly a testament to equality, it states, “Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions, both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected…” Really? Even the U.S. Supreme Court, very recently, acknowledged that Jews were discriminated against by places like Harvard University when we were a Christian nation.

Christians are the first-class citizens who set the rules. This one-sided thinking has already played out in Mississippi with the Dobbs decision, where the Supreme Court Christian majority’s view on abortion has been forced upon everyone. The religious beliefs of minorities simply do not matter. Jews, for example, believe that personhood begins at birth. Prior to birth, the mother’s physical and mental health are given priority…but not in Mississippi or other states that recently enacted strict bans on abortion.

Moreover, Christianity does not abide gender equality. Consider this biblical passage, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12). Wives are not equal to but subservient to their husbands. And women have yet to reach parity in the modern ministry. Even today, male head clergy outnumber females by wide margins. In evangelical churches, the ratio is 97% male to 3% female. Catholicism bars women from the priesthood. 

Christianity’s record on racial equality is also troublesome. The Bible advises slaves to be faithful to their masters. And during the Civil War, passages from the Bible were offered as proof of white superiority and justification for slavery. Racial bias persists. On January 6, Christian nationalists and white supremacists marched together carrying the holy cross and waving the confederate flag. 

Concerning democracy, Christians have, from the first Pope, accepted authoritarian rule as the legitimate form of governance. While the college of cardinals now elects popes, all other positions of authority within the Catholic church are filled by decree. Evangelicals are similarly undemocratic. The unashamed Christian participation in the January 6 effort to upend democracy and overturn the election is not so surprising.

Simply put: We are a democracy, not a theocracy, and the suppression of science is a keystone feature of a theocracy, robbing citizens of logical thought and choice. Our climate emergency is just one such example. 

Theocracies not only discourage thinking and impede progress, but they can also be very unjust. Look at modern theocratic countries. In general, their citizens have a low standard of living and are without basic human rights. Women are treated shamefully, denied education and repressed. 

Masha Amini, a young Iranian woman, was recently beaten and murdered by the morality police for not wearing a hajib. Think that could ever happen here? Unlikely, but the Texas law rewarding citizens who bring lawsuits against women and doctors for abortions is undoubtably a form of morality policing.

The Spanish Inquisition was finally abolished in 1834, 60 years after the American Revolution. So, the founders knew firsthand that Christianity could spawn great injustice, and they understood that a theocratic government would never provide the freedoms they envisioned for America. 

That is why they created a secular nation and authored a secular constitution that guarantees freedom, equality and democracy. These founding principles are what has made America a great nation. Patriotic Americans understand that and will reject the Conservative Manifesto, and other misguided efforts by the religious right to undermine America’s foundation.

Forcing Christianity on non-believers will not reverse the steep decline in Christian church membership. A better strategy might be to follow Christ’s essential teaching—love thy neighbor. Live and let live.

Bob Topper, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a retired engineer.

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