The United States has more Christians than any country in the world, both in numbers and as a per cent of our population. Roughly 80% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Only about half are actively involved in the life of a church, but this is still a large number. But are we a Christian nation?
I leave unaddressed whether a nation can (or should) be Christian. Instead, I point to a deep division among American Christians about what it means to be Christian.
On one side of the divide are what might be called “absolutist” Christians – those who believe that Christianity is the one absolute revelation of God and the only way of salvation. Commonly, this view is accompanied with belief in biblical (or papal) infallibility, a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, and a right-wing political orientation. This is the most publicly visible form of Christianity in our time.
On the other side are Christians who see their faith as one of the world’s great religions, but not as the only adequate revelation of God. Rather, all of the enduring religions are seen as culturally-shaped responses to the experience of the sacred. These Christians commonly see the Bible as the ancient testimony of our spiritual ancestors to God and life with God, recognize that much of the language of the Bible is symbolic and metaphorical, and affirm religious pluralism. Politically, they tend to be moderate or progressive.
And, of course, there are many Christians “in the middle.” Some are unaware of or undecided about this conflict. Or they may be leaning one way or the other, but not passionately committed to either side.
So are we a Christian nation? No. Rather, we are a nation in which there is a struggle going on between Christians for the heart and soul of Christianity – about what it means to be Christian, and about what it means to be an American Christian.
Originally posted on The Washington Post website.