the extremists define the terms...
by Tom Van Dyke
I think it was Jim Babka who said that those who believe in the "Christian Nation" thesis the most are the ones out there making the worst arguments for it.
I hear that. Bigtime.
Certainly there are some folks making claims like George Washington was some sort of Jerry Falwell, or that America was founded wholly on the Bible, or was ever some sort of Christian theocracy.
This opens the door for critics of any Christian nation [small "n," a far less extravagant claim] thesis to write:
The central thesis of the Christian America argument that is easily deconstructed is "it's by virtue of our specific theology [Sola-Scriptura Protestantism] that America's Founding order was created."
No wonder Mr. Rowe can write---truthfully, given those strictures---that
The problem is the Christian Nation idea is a myth. It was debunked by modern scholars...
Indeed. A sola scriptura ["Bible only"] argument is easily debunked. For one thing, it excludes the 1700+ years of Christian thought that includes Augustine, Aquinas, Suarez, Grotius, Hooker, and Jonathan Mayhew's famous sermon that was a "great influence in the commencement of the [American] Revolution." [For that matter, see also Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", which quotes some of these same Christian thinkers...]
And of course no Christian theocracy has ever existed that stoned homosexuals or disobedient children or drunks per Deuteronomy.
We don't need modern scholars to debunk a straw man.
But what do we learn about religion and the Founding by slapping down the most extreme claims? Unfortunately, not much, but the irony is that those who argue hardest---and unfortunately, badly---for America's Christian heritage make it all look like balderdash.
Indeed, this blog's favorite bogeyman, punching bag and object of scholarly abuse [and he deserves at least some of it for various errors and overstatements], David Barton of Wallbuilders, has never argued for a sola scriptura interpretation of the Founding. Yet he can be tarred [and is] with the broad brush of being "debunked," the additional irony being that Barton's own errors have brought more reasonable and scholarly advocates for the Christian nation thesis into disrepute themselves.
Now, I don't accuse anyone of creating these "straw men." These guys anoint themselves and raise themselves up. But it's too easy to put the torch to the scarecrows outside the house and declare a debunking instead of going up to the edifice and taking on the real folks inside.
The definitive Christian nation thesis argument remains the Rev. Jasper Adams sermon of 1833 [later published with footnotes and distributed all across America], which was highly praised by not one, but two sitting Supreme Court justices, America's first great constitutional scholar Joseph Story, and Chief Justice John Marshall.
Say what you want about "Christian Nationists" or David Barton, but Jasper Adams has not been "debunked." Not nearly.
The Christian nation thesis? Depends on whether you use a capital N or a lowercase one, I reckon. The latter at least is far from debunked. Proved? Nah, history doesn't work that way. I'll go with "The floor remains open."