Saturday, March 5, 2016

What makes America so great and Christianity so special?
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Two particular themes have been prominent in the 2016 presidential campaign:
  • Making (or keeping) America great
  • Recognizing Christianity’s unique place in American life

As both an American and a Christian (but not in that order), I emphatically affirm the greatness of America and the uniqueness of the Christian faith.

But what is it that makes America great? And what is it that makes the Christian faith special to those of us who claim it?

What I'm hearing from some of our presidential candidates - and their legions of supporters - is that both America's greatness and Christianity's uniqueness derive from power, wealth, and fear.


These don't make America great and Christianity special. They make them small, weak, and ugly.

So what is it that makes America great and Christianity special?

It is the principles that underlay them at their founding, principles that – though imperfectly applied by adherents from their beginning until now – we ignore at peril of losing the heart and soul of what it means to be either American or Christian.

America means:
  • Recognizing the equality of all people under the law
  • Giving a home to the oppressed and dispossessed
  • Government by compromise for the common good of all, not a privileged few
  • Separation of church and state, which has the effect of making both stronger

Christianity means:
  • Following, first and only, Jesus Christ, his person, his teaching, and his commandments
  • Taking care of "the least of these" - hungry, sick, imprisoned, poor - at the sacrifice of one's own comfort and even one's own life
  • Loving our enemies
  • Praying for those who harm us
  • Refusing to let fear rule our actions and attitudes
  • Defending the rights of those with whom we disagree
  • Living and working from the margins, not from the center of power, for those on the margins

If we focus on what really makes America great and Christianity special, we will: 
  • Welcome refugees oppressed and dispossessed by their native lands
  • Welcome those of all faiths to America, refusing to let fear control us
  • Seek peaceful and equitable resolutions to conflict, both external and internal to our shores
  • Give grace rather than condemnation and discrimination to those whose actions and beliefs offend us

When Americans build walls to keep people out . . . when Christians seek governmental sanction to discriminate against those whose actions and beliefs offend them . . . when Americans and Christians refuse to help refugees who have nowhere else to turn . . . when Americans seek to “win” by any method available, regardless of its illegality or immorality (waterboarding . . . killing the innocent families of terrorists) . . . when Christians thirst for political power . . .



  1. Great article! To balance our responsibilities as American citizens, there is another founding principle to consider:
    - hard work and the freedom of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, thereby limiting the role of government to protecting the People's freedoms and rights, privileges and immunities.

    1. We need to remember, though, Craig, that - as I mentioned in my post - our founding principles, of both America & Christianity, have been "imperfectly applied by adherents from their beginning until now." Though America began by declaring that "all men are created equal," its Constitution made both women and people of color less than equal from the beginning, and that is still the case today. Women make far less on the dollar for equal work. People of color were pushed down by slavery and Jim Crow laws, and they are not close to catching up. This is not because they weren't willing to work hard, but rather because others stole the fruits of their labor. They still struggle to catch up today and aren't even close. We still effectively have Jim Crow on the books today, in the form of laws and enforcement mechanisms that result in the unconscionably disproportionate incarceration of people of color and those who have little means (who often are one and the same). In theory, your statement of the principle of "hard work and the freedom of the individual . . ." sounds great, but it is too simplistic, because from the beginning the laws have been slanted to favor those with power. Thus, it is surely government's role to reverse it and provide those in need with what has been denied them. And yes, I believe adequate health care is a right, not a privilege; health care should not depend on one's means. And I could go on. But I'll save the rest for the next time we sit down for coffee together.

    2. Bill, the principle of hard work and freedom of the individual is not any more simplistic or complex than the principles you listed. Surely all of these principles have been imperfectly applied. That does not make them any less relevant or pressing for us today. We need to remember ALL of the principles that animate America and our faith so that we do not over correct for the sins of the past and step into future new sins.

      Without getting into discussions around individual issues, I would point out that health care is not a right as understood by the Constitution. To quote Jefferson, "rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others." Whether this squares with the biblical prescription of our obligations as Christians is also an important discussion, but we at least have to start with a clear understanding of the terms and principles that animate both America and Christianity.

  2. You, of course, are right on target and also, as I'm sure you are well aware, mostly "preaching to the choir". Even so it needs to said, must be said and helps encourage those of us who need to hear a good word. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.