This weekend I received a rather spirited email from a self-proclaimed 'evangelical conservative' asking why I am quote: “challenging the longstanding beliefs about the founding of our great Christian Nation.” He closed with, "Who do you think you are?" As I sincerely value all feedback (albeit partisan) I want to take this opportunity to address this question publicly.
The individual that sent this email appears to be under the misconception that I am denying that America was established as a Christian nation with some kind of malice or secular agenda in mind. In reality my intentions are the exact opposite. As a historian, I am criticizing what I believe to be the manipulation of history in support of an agenda. As an active Presbyterian, I am offended by the skewing of religion for political propaganda. As a libertarian, I am fed up with the far-right’s superiority complex that attacks anyone who disagrees with them, no matter how much the facts prove otherwise. My goal is simple: call attention to inaccurate or dishonest historical claims. In this way I believe that I am propagating the truth about my country and my faith. I have always maintained that the Founding Fathers were influenced by Christian-Judeo principals, yet they understood the distinction between living in a nation of Christians and legislating a nation of Christianity. No one has changed my mind to date.
Of course I’m not the only Christian/historian examining this subject. John Fea, Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania has published some excellent work on this subject. He is the coeditor of Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation and author of Was America founded as a Christian nation? In the preface Fea states: “We live in a sound-bite culture that makes it difficult to have any sustained dialogue on these historical issues. It is easy for those who argue that America is a Christian nation (and those who do not) to appear on radio or television programs, quote from one of the founders or one of the nation’s founding documents, and sway people to their positions. These kinds of arguments, which can often be contentious, do nothing to help us unravel a very complicated historical puzzle about the relationship between Christianity and America’s founding.”