Have you heard? Kirk Cameron is starring in the upcoming documentary “Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure” which opens in select theaters March 27th.
I truly like Kirk Cameron, even though I disagree with many of his positions. I recognize that the Lord is able to use all of us, despite our sappy Left Behind performances and our support of some really terrible theology. But really, I do like Kirk Cameron.
As a teacher, I know the great responsibility I have to teach the truth. I know that I have got it wrong before. I know that somewhere I’m getting it wrong now. And odds are that I will get it wrong in the future. I think that describes us all. Regardless, we must do our best to pursue truth and walk in it as best we understand it. I believe that Kirk is doing that.
It’s clear to me that Kirk loves the Lord and is passionate about others coming to faith in Christ. I don’t doubt that at all. I rejoice in his testimony. I don’t have to agree with his evangelism style or his decision to play Buck Williams in a movie that propagates an idea foreign to the NT. The Lord has used him to build the kingdom. For that I’m thankful. He’s a brother in Christ.
Having said that, I’m convinced that he sincerely believes what he is promoting in his upcoming pseudo-documentary. I suspect that it is one more revisionist plug from Christian fundamentalists during an election year. I hope I’m wrong about this, but by the looks of things, it’s more of the same.
I wish Kirk would come and sit in on my Christian History class. I would love to introduce him to the historical context of the 17th and 18th century British movements leading up to the early colonial period, and subsequent American Revolution. I would like to present my case that the founding fathers were not seeking to establish a Christian nation. This is most clearly evidenced by an absence of any reference to Jesus in the founding documents, and the Treaty of Tripoli, which sets forth that the U.S. was not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.
Were some of the early leaders Christian? Well, sure. They were white weren’t they? There wasn’t much else those days for white Westerners. It can hardly be denied that some of them were simply nominal Christians—carrying on their religion like a family tradition. Thanks to Constantine in the 4th century, Europe had considered itself “Christian” for about 1400 hundred years—even during the Crusades, Inquisitions, and the drowning of Anabaptists. [Insert sarcasm now] So yeah, they were “Christian” alright… every single one of them.
Deism was the new way to be fashionable as a Westerner during the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. Deism holds a belief in a “Creator” or “nature’s God” who rarely intervenes in human affairs, though he might show up to bless nationalistic endeavors. Deism was a growing religious philosophy that believed that miracles would violate nature (hence, “supernatural”). Therefore, deists believed that miracles are not possible. They also rejected divine revelation. Deists believed that the Bible should merely be used to further lawful societies and to encourage some level of morality within the culture.
I’m not going to discuss each founding father here, but I should mention a few key fathers. George Washington was a freemason and a deist. He wouldn’t take communion with his wife. We have no correspondence of him mentioning Jesus or faith in Christ. John Adams spoke harshly at times about Christianity and religion in general in his private correspondence. He was a Christian Unitarian that believed the church service was good for everyone because it promoted morals and values among the masses.
Yes, there’s ample evidence that John Jay was an evangelical Christian. He actually tried to keep Catholics from holding office. And Patrick Henry was indeed vocal about his Christian faith as the leader of independence in Virginia. Nevertheless, we should not be so quick to conclude what we hope or wish to be true because of a few that were more vocal about their faith. Politicians do this all the time today. Do you still believe that Bill Clinton is a Southern Baptist?
Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were deists. Franklin admits it in his writings, when he wasn’t drunk or inventing something. Jefferson went so far to deny the divinity of Christ. He even created his own compilation of Jesus’ life from the gospels, which he entitled, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” He removed all evidence of the “supernatural” for a presentation of Jesus as a good moral teacher who is only to be admired, not worshipped. Rationalism at its finest!
Let’s be clear about this. The founding fathers sought to establish a nation free from big government, burdensome taxes, and state-sponsored religion. Religious nation? I’ll grant that much. Christian nation? Huh, what’s that? The major shapers of America concluded that it’s not even possible.
What about the pilgrims you say? Oh, you mean the glorified stories of the Puritan fundamentalists? Well, you see, they wanted to enforce OT laws and create model theocratic cities. They are the ones who first hijacked the “city on a hill” language that Jesus used to describe the church. Instead, they used it to describe their new theocratic societies in America (e.g. Massachusetts Bay Colony led by William Bradford).
The Puritans claimed that America was the new Israel, the Indians were the savage Canaanites, and that God had given them the command to kill in his name. Many politicians throughout the years have used this sort of religious rhetoric to pander to fundamentalist evangelicals who still embrace the Christian nation myth. It’s also great for demonizing your enemies and gaining support for the expansion of empire when “God is on our side!”
Except for the fundamentalist Puritans, the rest of the colonialists acknowledged that the “Christian” state had been a total disaster in Europe. Roger Williams, who began the first Baptist church on American soil, rejected the theocratic view of the Calvinistic pilgrims, detested the idea of a Christian nation, and argued for religious liberty and separation of church and state–an idea that the Anabaptists had been ruthlessly persecuted for a century earlier. It finally caught on!
What you have here are Christian revisionists trying to build a case for an American Christian heritage based off of a glorified retelling of the pilgrim landing and the Puritan idea, singling out a few lone patriots who said some things about Jesus, the vague deistic references to God in founding documents, and the celebration of biblical virtues that even the atheists in that day advocated.
A person has to ignore the larger social, economic, political, and religious climate of early North American colonialism to advance the Christian nation myth.
So, if you want to “go back to the beginning” and find a nation embracing biblical morals and values, you will find some of that for sure. But if your eyes are wide open, you’re also going to find war, lies, greed, genocide, slavery, witch trials, and manifest destiny.
If you’re honest, you will, much like Pliny the Roman historian, seek to dig up the glorious past of Rome in order to inspire the citizens of the day to embrace moral reform, only to discover that the history of empire is a bloody shame. There is no glorious past.
Where are the likes of Roger Williams today? Where are those Baptists? It’s hard to find them in 2012. For many Baptists today, and plenty other evangelical groups, will likely support the monumental myth that is promoted in this film. Kirk’s new movie will be more fodder for the Christian fundamentalists among us who refuse to listen to the real historians telling them it just ain’t so, and to Jesus’ words that still read “my kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36).
D.D. Flowers, 2012.
“Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” by James W. Loewen; “Was America Founded As a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction” by John Fea; “Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty” by Steven Waldman; “Revolution Within the Revolution: The First Amendment in Historical Context 1612-1789” by William Estep; “A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present” by Howard Zinn; “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Politics is Destroying the Church” by Gregory Boyd; “Resident Aliens” by Stanley Hauerwas