Today while doing grocery shopping, I saw a T-Shirt with the slogan: My faith and my freedom are one. Underneath was the verse: Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD (Psalm 33:12).
I don’t know who provides such a shirt, but that slogan troubles me deeply. I think it reflects the problem that many Christians have with unhypocritical support of freedom of religion in this country and elsewhere in the world. Now there is a theological sense in which I can understand the claim that faith and freedom are one. There is a point of spiritual freedom, the freedom to make spiritual choices and to build a healthy relationship with God that comes, for me, through my faith. But a key element of that spiritual freedom comes from the fact that it was freely chosen. That faith is my faith, and even though I share a fellowship with Christians because it is also Christian faith, it bears a distinct stamp.
But with the accompanying text (about which more below), I’m pretty sure that’s not the freedom we’re talking about. There are a number of groups that advocate a Christian nation, one built on Biblical principles and enforcing Biblical laws. Let’s ignore, for the moment, the incredible problems there are with simply producing a “Biblical” system of law. One’s hermeneutic is quite determinative of what one holds to be applicable, and even amongst people who advocate a Christian nation, there is considerable variety of interpretational principles.
There are those who advocate a nation that lives a life of holiness. What this means, in practice, is that they want a single set of moral standards enforced on everyone, derived from the Bible in whatever way they derive things. This will mean marital fidelity in the strongest sense–not only no sex outside of marriage, but no premarital sex, no common-law marriages, and modest apparel and lifestyle. It will mean that homosexuality cannot be tolerated anywhere in the nation. Blasphemy, of course, cannot be allowed, because how can a “holy nation” allow such a thing? Thus freedom of speech will be prohibited. Of course, idolatry and worship of any other God but “the LORD” however defined, must be eventually forbidden.
Now I’m not arguing against anyone’s advocacy of a particular code of morality for their lives and for those in their spiritual community. I do that myself, and my own code is actually quite conservative and restrictive–to me! But for various reasons, many groups of Christians have decided that somehow true freedom can only come with the practice of Christianity. At the moment, they will advocate permitting other groups, but they want them to exist in a Christian nation and live up to Christian principles.
They do so often for quite contradictory reasons. One broad grouping believes that Christianity has replaced Israel in God’s scheme, and that America is a new Zion, a new promised land, in which all the promises of blessings will be fulfilled if only we will follow the laws and purify the land. If you encounter such a view, don’t let them claim moderation. That slope is a very slippery one, and unless you are 100% in agreement, eventually you’re going to find yourself on the outside.
Another broad group continues to believe that Israel is the benificiary of God’s promises to Israel, but they believe that those promises can be extended to our nation if we behave, as a nation, in the same way. This is a bit more logical on the first point–the promises after all were made to Israel, and there is nowhere in the Bible that might indicate a transfer to the United States of such blessings. But it is less logical on the second point, because we take random promises and random blessings and apply them on a national scale.
Either of these groups needs to read the second half of the verse I quoted above: and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. Clearly the reference was to Israel, and “the LORD” is YHWH, the proper name of Israel’s God. God does promise blessings to other nations, but not on the same covenant basis as he does for Israel itself. Either transfer or extension of that covenant needs some serious theological undergirding, and none is forthcoming from advocates.
Jesus never advocated establishment of a physical nation. What he did was advocate people, with the kingdom of God in them, living kingdom lives. I challenge you to find Jesus advocating anything similar to the seeking of blessing on a national scale through somehow forcing them all to agree to identical moral codes. In fact Jesus seemed to be against the imposition of any detailed sets of laws on people; he was a revolutionary advocating the spirit rather than the letter.
Freedom will not survive in a Christian nation, not because Christianity is bad but because it is a spiritual faith offering a relationship with God to individuals. Christianity applied by force should be regarded as an oxymoron. In fact, Christianity applied by force has repeatedly resulted in persecution of opponents and dissenters, and in a faith that bears little relation to Jesus. Non-Christians should be very careful to guard against the type of Christian who says that his faith and his freedom are one. But Christians should be equally careful. We are commanded to make disciples from all nations, but that does not mean that we should try to make the nations themselves into disciples. Christianity does not work that way and was never intended to do so.
Freedom is freedom and faith is faith, and neither will flourish unless faith is freely chosen or rejected. Because of this I am absolutely opposed to the notion of a Christian nation. A nation with lots of Christians in it, yes. But even if 100% of the population were to choose freely and without pressure to be Christians, I would advocate complete freedom of religion, because anything else would be destructive to faith (and of course to freedom).