Was America originally a “Christian nation?” It’s a good question.
According to the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the answer is a decisive “no.” The Freedom from Religion Foundation agrees, citing a 1797 quote (often attributed to John Adams), that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Dr. Steven K. Green, professor of law and history, and author of Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding adds:
If, by the question, one is asking whether the Founding Fathers relied on Protestant Christian principles in drafting the essential documents and in organizing the new governments, then the answer is a resounding “no.”
If one refines the question to ask whether the Founding Fathers were motivated to act as they did based on their Christian faith, the answer becomes a little murkier, but the response is still “no.” Many of the leading founders were theological liberals who approached religion from a rational perspective.
Well, I guess if Google is your research team, then the answer seems fairly cut and dried. After all, the experts agree. America was never a “Christian nation” and our Founding Fathers were “theologically liberal,” irreligious and agnostic. But this has been the revisionist historian narrative for years so it’s no wonder a Google search algorithm skews to this interpretation.
But what’s the real truth?
After all, a casual tour of the political architecture, statues and monuments in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and other cities connected to our Founding Era reveal irrefutable evidence for how “Christian” this nation once was. Seriously, we have Bible verses engraved in steel, marble and stone across the Northeast United States for those with eyes to see.
And with apologies to the professor, it’s far more likely the Founding Fathers were orthodox (dare I say theologically conservative) Christians. That’s not an understatement and I will prove it shortly. The skeptics like to note the irreligiosity of Thomas Paine or the Deism of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (who both, ironically, attended religious services rather “religiously!”). However, these same secularists overlook Benjamin Rush, Gouverneur Morris, John Dickinson, Frances Hopkinson, Samuel Huntington, John Witherspoon, Charles Carroll, Charles Thomson or Richard Henry Lee. Never heard of them? Most Americans haven’t. And yet, these Founding Fathers (and over half of the men) who signed the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were highly trained clergy. Furthermore, they were hardly “theologically liberal” in their religion. Rather these Ivy League educated men were far more “evangelical.” They promoted Sunday Schools and Bible Societies (Rush), translated Bibles (Thomson), or wrote church hymns (Hopkinson).
In general, our Founding Fathers (and their children and grandchildren) were devout, highly-educated Christians. Their diaries, last wills and testaments all affirm Christian faith. The majority of the Founders were more educated than the average pastor, journalist and history grad student (but that’s a different topic!). All you need to do is study the Founding Era and read their original writings (many which are available freely online).
Take Jefferson and Franklin. Even these less religiously orthodox types were influenced by Jesus and Christianity:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see (Benjamin Franklin).
I am a Christian in the only sense in which He [Jesus] wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others (Thomas Jefferson).
You won’t hear secularists quoting these statements, but I digress.
In our Founding, the issue wasn’t whether America would be a CHRISTIAN nation at all. America was already a Christian nation. The real discussions focused upon what type of Christian nation. Would we be Episcopal, Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, or some other Christian denomination? Sectarianism (with persecution attached) was common in the Revolutionary era. The Founding Fathers, again many who were clergy, forged a nation that respected religious liberty. This was the heart of Jefferson’s infamous “separation of church and state” statement to concerned Baptists in Connecticut. He assured these persecuted religious dissidents that in this new America there would be no NATIONAL religion. They were free to remain Baptists.
It’s understandable why the nonreligious and secular must reimagine the religious foundations of our national story. After all, they need the Founders to be “liberal theologians,” Deists and agnostics in order to encourage further separation of religion (namely Christianity) from the government. They need our Founding to be void of religious influence. Consider, once again, the words of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and in Article VI, which prohibits “religious tests” for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian.
What this secular organization misunderstands (and misrepresents) is how the Founders wrote a legal document not a religious term paper. The fact they don’t expressly mention Christianity or Jesus Christ (and attach Bible verses) assumes too much upon the Constitutional project (as you’ll discover in part two of this series). The only religious protection the Founders felt necessary to include prohibited the federal government from creating a state religion. They had enough of that religious system in England, Sweden, France and Germany. Our Founders didn’t want another STATE religion to emerge. It’s why they specifically didn’t mention “Jesus” or “Christianity.” After all, America already had nonreligious types, Jews and Muslims within the population. It was religious liberty for all or none.
And let’s be clear, the absence of specific Christian vocabulary didn’t mean the Founders failed to view America as a “Christian nation.” Nor did it mean they didn’t employ biblical principles to forge our great Constitution. To the contrary, its well-known fact how our Founders invited clergy to lead Bible studies and prayer vigils, then attended church services, all while producing the U.S. Constitution. Just don’t expect the History Channel to reveal these facts.
The inconvenient truth is our Founders were not only devout Christians, but they also assumed America was a “Christian nation” from its very beginning…and, hopefully, would stay that way.
It’s a safe assumption. Consider the words of John Adams, one of America’s greatest thinkers and influential leaders:
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
That’s right, the same John Adams who purportedly stated we were “not a Christian nation” also argued the U.S. Constitution is “inadequate” for any nation that is not “moral or religious.” If that’s not strong enough, consider Adam’s “dream” for a utopic nation:
Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited…What a Eutopia – what a Paradise would this region be!
George Washington agreed:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars.
Religion and morality…indispensable foundations for the new American republic? Absolutely.
Maybe the secularists have pegged John Adams wrong. Maybe the irreligious misrepresent our Founding Fathers too. Maybe we all need to honestly restudy our Founding Story.
In part two, I’ll let the Founding Fathers do the talking. You’ll learn what they felt about America as a “Christian nation” and why it’s time to flip the script on these revisionist historians and nonreligious organizations who misconstrue their words and propose America is something it is not.
Dr. Rick Chromey is an author, historian and theologian who speaks and writes on matters of religion, culture, history, technology and leadership. He lives in Boise, ID. www.rickchromey.com
 Americans United Against the Separation of Church and State: https://www.au.org/resources/publications/is-america-a-christian-nation
 Freedom from Religion Foundation: https://ffrf.org/component/k2/item/23731-is-america-a-christian-nation
 As quoted in a CNN article “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”: https://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/living/america-christian-nation/index.html
 Benjamin Franklin, Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), p. 185, to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790.
 Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Grey & Bowen, 1830), Vol. III, p. 506, to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803.
 “Is America a Christian Nation?” Americans United Against the Separation of Church and State: https://www.au.org/resources/publications/is-america-a-christian-nation
 Originally part of a letter from John Adams to the Massachusetts Militia (October 11, 1798): https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-3102
 John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756.
 George Washington, Address of George Washington, President of the United States, and Late Commander in Chief of the American Army. To the People of the United States, Preparatory to his Declination (Baltimore: George and Henry S. Keatinge, 1796), pp. 22-23.