UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — I am a Christian.
I am an American.
It’s not the same thing.
To be a Christian is to believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ and to accept him as your personal lord and savior.
To be American is to understand that we are a country of different religions, beliefs and ideas.
There has been much discussion, especially lately, that America is a “Christian nation” – that we were founded on biblical principles and should base our laws accordingly. Others have – seriously – suggested to me that having “In God We Trust” on our currency somehow reinforces this. (The national motto is “E pluribus unum” – does that mean we should speak Latin?)
Some people would disagree. One of them would be Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in an 1802 letter to a committee of Baptists in Connecticut: “To believe with you that religion is a matter between man and his God alone, that he must not answer to anyone else for his faith. or his worship, that the lawful powers of government reach but actions, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign respect this act of all the American people who have declared that their Legislature should “make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.
This means that the church cannot tell the state how to govern, and the state cannot tell the church how to worship. The term for this is secular (meaning non-religious, not anti-religious.) People are free to worship as they wish (in theory) but cannot use their faith to make laws that would enforce their beliefs to others.
But, just for the sake of discussion, let’s say that America is, in fact, a Christian nation. This raises a particularly important question:
What kindly of a Christian? There are many branches, after all.
Catholicism? Despite what Catholics on the US Supreme Court might think, no. The overwhelming majority of those who came for religious reasons were Protestants.
Well, in the spirit of “originalism,” how about looking at all 13 original states? There were Anglicans (Virginia, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina), Congregationalists (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire) and even none (Delaware, Rhode Island, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey). So there is a 5-5 tie between Anglicans and none. That doesn’t help much, does it? (Full disclosure – the Congregational Church, now part of the United Church of Christ, is my denomination.)
Well, what about the founders themselves? Surely the people who wrote the Constitution could agree on something as fundamental as that, couldn’t they?
We have already seen Jefferson’s point of view on the matter. He was also a deist who believed human reason was the way to solve problems, edited the Bible to eliminate miracles, and studied a Quran given to him when he was president. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison shared the same conviction.
Additionally, there is the additional issue of denominations that arose after the Constitution, such as Latter Day Saints and Christian Scientists. Don’t they have a say?
So if the original 13 states can’t guide us, if the founders didn’t agree, and if Christianity today isn’t the same as it was when the Constitution was written, what do we do? Do we choose a denomination or do we ask the religious leaders to determine what is permitted and what is not? (Religious debates never cause major problems, do they?) Does Congress decide what religious rules should be followed? Or the Supreme Court?
No. We do no such thing. This brings the United States into the realm of theocracy, explicitly violates the Constitution, and treats only a small portion of Americans as full citizens. We can’t go that route.
Like millions of others in this country, I am a Christian.
Like nearly 400 million others, I am American.
They are not the same.
They can never be.
Jerry Cordaro is a consultant and self-proclaimed political junkie living in University Heights.
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