Should Christians Work Toward a Christian Nation Again?

Sic et Non

Josh Hawley, a US Senator for Missouri, has written an article for the February issue of First Things. The title is “Our Christian Nation.” While that topic is broad and complex, I, as a Lutheran, will interact specifically with the issues that Hawley raises.

Senator Hawley describes our country’s history as based on a common moral order that was strongly influenced by Christianity and the Bible. He fears “the demise of Christianity as America’s cultural and moral anchor” and calls for Christians to reclaim that heritage. He critiques some of the current conditions, such as the domination of a “regime of secularism” imposed on our public life and the hardships imposed on the nuclear family and blue-collar workers by the current economic policies. On that latter issue he writes:

“Today we have the opposite of a Christian economy, one that privileges hedge funds and global capital over workers, the childless banker in Manhattan over the welder and his family in Missouri. The dirty little secret of Washington, D.C. is that for decades now both parties have embraced largely the same agenda: the free flow of global capital, unlimited imports of cheap foreign goods, tax handouts to corporations that ship away American jobs, and the ready supply of cheap labor. These policies add up to a massive system of preferences for a tiny set of industries—Wall Street, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley, principally—and one social class, the tippy top. This is not right. It is not just. And Christians who care about marriage, family, and labor should not stand for it.”

His essay raises the question: Should Christians work toward a Christian nation again? My response is: It depends on the definition of “Christian nation.” If by “Christian nation” we mean Christians refusing to privatize their Christianity but instead acting as Christians 24/7 in the home, in the church, in the workplace, in the public schools, and in the public square, then the answer is yes. We want that kind of “Christian nation.” Many of the critiques Senator Hawley gives and the suggestions he makes are, in my opinion, perceptive and worthy of consideration. Christians should become very active in all aspects of our country’s life from the local level to the national level.

Should Christians work toward a Christian nation again? If by “Christian nation” we mean expecting the gospel of Jesus Christ to speak “to every facet of our common life,” then the answer is no. Senator Hawley makes the following statements:

“But the rot across our society now reveals that social norms and economic policies cannot be easily separated. The gospel concerns the whole of society and life.

“That every nation depends on a shared moral order; that ours is Christian; and that to renew that order, we must strive to make our society reflect again, in our day, the principles of the gospel.

“Christian believers who are willing to bring the gospel to bear on every corner of our culture and politics.

“We have a duty, to our neighbors and our Lord, to work for a just society leavened by the gospel.”

Senator Hawley seems to think of the gospel in theocratic terms, as teaching “principles” that can shape our nation’s economic arrangements, business and labor, public education, and government. Such statements reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of “the gospel.” The gospel tells the glad tidings from the almighty Creator that by the all-sufficient work of Jesus of Nazareth, his incarnate Son and Israel’s Christ, two thousand years ago in the land of Israel, the Creator has reconciled all rebellious sinners to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5). Through this good news God gives sinners today the benefits and blessings of Christ’s all-sufficient work, to be received by faith alone, which faith itself is created and sustained by the Holy Spirit. While the Scriptures can articulate the gospel in a variety of ways, the point is that the gospel focuses on Jesus of Nazareth and correlates with faith, not with politics or economics or societal arrangements.

I as a Lutheran would say it this way. America should strive to be a nation which affirms the first article of the creed and natural law (which is basically the same as the Ten Commandments), which seeks to establish civil righteousness throughout the public square, which protects life and supports the nuclear family, where Christians can unhinderedly live out their various vocations in a Christian manner, where churches and ministers and individual Christians can freely spread the saving gospel and teach the Word of God. Senator Josh Hawley has written a piece on the past and future of America, which invites interaction. What do you think?

Dr. Paul Raabe is Professor Emeritus of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.





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