The Southern Baptist Convention’s top official for public policy and religious liberty concerns says, theologically speaking, America is not a Christian nation.
In a Gospel Coalition video posted May 4 in advance of this week’s National Day of Prayer, Russell Moore of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said if applied sociologically to mean that most people in the country profess to be Christians, the United States “was and is a Christian nation.”
“That’s not what most people mean, though, when they say Christian nation,” Moore said. “What they mean is the idea that God was in covenant with the United States of America in order to bless the United States of America as a special people, as a new Israel, as a group of people covenanted under Christianity. And the answer to that is clearly no.”
Moore said a lot of confusion over the nation’s religious identity comes “when people assign to the United States of America a providential place in history that the Bible never assigns it.”
It shows up, he said, when people apply Old Testament passages directly to the United States, the most common being II Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, repent of their sins and pray and seek my face, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins, and I will heal their land.”
“One can hear this persistently on days of prayer for the nation, but God did not promise that to a political body,” Moore said. “He did not promise that to anyone apart from the mediation of Jesus Christ. Those passages were given to the covenant people of Israel in relationship with God through the covenant promises made to Abraham and then to Moses and then to David, and those covenants are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”
This week President Obama signed a proclamation designating May 5 the 2016 National Day of Prayer. Anne Graham Lotz, named May 5 as chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, appealed for individuals to pray for the nation with passion and fervency in a new book The Daniel Prayer: Prayer that Moves Heaven and Changes Nations.
“Nothing will turn our nation around except heartfelt, desperate prayer. Prayer where the prayers rend their hearts, return to the Cross, and repent of personal and national sin. Only prayer that moves Heaven can change a nation,” Lotz described the message of the book due in stores May 10.
Many conservative Christians today embrace the writings of David Barton, a controversial historian who claims the United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation and dismisses the constitutional separation of church and state as a “myth.”
Moore said rather than being conservative, the Christian nation doctrine “is really a form of theological liberalism.”
“It assumes that a person or a nation can be a Christian apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, apart from new birth,” Moore said. “That is contrary to the gospel that we have received in Jesus Christ.”
Though their styles and tone often contrast, on this topic Moore’s thinking is pretty much in line with that of his predecessor Richard Land. Land, who left the ERLC in 2013 and now is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., wrote in 2006 it is “both inaccurate historically and inappropriate theologically” to describe America as a Christian nation.
“Theologically, a ‘Christian nation,’ at least for evangelical Christians, implies a nation where the vast majority of people are ‘converted’ individuals who profess Christ as their personal Savior,” Land said, “a situation which has never been true in the United States, even when more than 90 percent of the population identified with some form of Protestant Christianity in 1790.”
Moore said it is more accurate to say that Christians “live in a nation among many people who profess to be Christians — some of whom are and some of whom aren’t — and we must be the people who give a faithful gospel witness in those days.”