New books for Lent and beyond: 2-27/28-16
A record-setting confirmation class: 3-1-16

The 'Christian nation' debate (again): 2-29-16

Every time there's a presidential election -- and lots of times in between -- the question comes up about whether the United States is a Christian nation.

XianflagIf, by that term, one means that a majority of Americans identify as Christian, then yes, it is.

But labeling it that is misleading in many ways, including because it hides the country's increasingly diverse religious landscape and because it makes it sound as if Christianity is in some way the established religion.

As this this Washington Post column contends, there's another reason not to use the term any more -- it no longer (if it ever did) fits our behavior. (I hope you will forgive the bad editing in the lead of the Post piece that left "it is" in when "they are" was meant.) The author of the piece, Norman Wirzba, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, writes this:

"Though voters may speak piously and rather vaguely about Christian values and ideals, polls and election results communicate clearly that this is a nation consumed by fear, anger and suspicion, none of which are Christian virtues. If voters were serious about presenting to the world a picture of a Christian America, they would need to be painting with the colors of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, gentleness and self-control, because these are the colors that, as the Apostle Paul said (in Galatians 5), witness to Jesus Christ and the power of God at work in their lives."

Wirzba is far from the only person noticing the glaring lack of Christian-inspired behavior among both our presidential candidates and our electorate, as Pope Francis' recent comments about Donald Trump indicate. And in her 2015 book The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson writes, ". . .contemporary America is full of fear. And. . .fear is not a Christian habit of mind."

Our political system, from the beginning, has allowed and at times encouraged anger, fear and vitriol, though it's hard to remember a campaign that's been quite as outrageously full of all that as the current one. So perhaps even back when a majority of Christians in the U.S. would have called this a Christian nation, they would have to confess that our politics often didn't reflect Christian ways of living.

But what should appall all of us -- Christian or not -- this year are all the candidates who are claiming to be Christian even while their rhetoric and actions say something very different. And Trump clearly is at the top of that list of frauds.

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At the request of a book publisher, children from around the world wrote letters to Pope Francis asking him questions, and a new book contains 30 of his responses. A 7-year-old boy from Chicago asked him: “If you could do 1 miracle what would it be?” The pope said he'd heal sick children. Notice that you don't have to teach children about love. You just have to show them.


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