Why Referring to America as a Christian Nation Is a Form of Idolatry

Why Referring to America as a Christian Nation Is a Form of Idolatry

A subtle thread of ideology found throughout many churches in America is the notion that this nation will and must continue to be favored in the eyes of the Lord. This assumption of America’s ongoing prosperity is rooted in the longstanding belief that America was founded as a Christian nation. 

Of course, many Christians would agree this wasn’t an explicit call by the founding fathers, but, at the very least, the moral and ethical thinking woven into the fabric of our nation is undeniably Christian. Regardless of the disagreement about this claim among Christians and non-Christians alike, many Christians agree there is truth to the idea that America is a Christian nation.

To some, this idea that America is a Christian nation is more than a mere point of pride. In fact, they have built an entire theology around it, believing that America will always be protected and prosperous as a result. Some go as far to read America into prophecies of the end times found in Scripture. To them, America is untouchable because we have God’s blessing. 

This theology fits nicely into Christian nationalism. But I think it is also deeply ingrained even in average American evangelical churches, even if just a bit more subtly.

The idea of an entire nation or people group thinking they are immune from the full wrath of God because of their special connection with God is not new. We can see many parallels between this current theology of America and the theology of Israel.

When Jeremiah was prophesying to Judah, he brought to light the ways Israel used the temple as a good luck charm instead of holding themselves to the ethical and spiritual demands of the covenant. The parallels between Jeremiah’s temple sermon and this current theology of many American Christians is striking.

The Idolatry of a Nation

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

Jeremiah was sent to the most cherished place among the community of Judah—the Temple. It is here that he was to speak God’s judgment against the false religion and spiritual adultery taking place among them. What is so poetic about the location of where Jeremiah was prophesying is that it was the very place the people of Judah had turned into an idolatrous icon. 

This was a really bad time for Judah politically, and they were afraid. The Assyrian Empire had just fallen, and now the Babylonian Empire was about to take over. It makes sense that Judah was gripping to anything they could for the sake of security. So, they began to see the temple as a means of national safety. 

Of course, everyone in Judah didn’t hold to this belief, but it was widespread enough for Jeremiah to rebuke their practices as a nation. Many viewed the temple itself as a guarantee of Jerusalem’s inviolability. The temple became the thing that would guarantee the protection and presence of God, despite their ongoing corruption. 

They viewed their dedication to worship in the temple as good and upright, but really they were worshiping and believing in the power of the temple—the bricks and beams and golden ornaments. Jeremiah called them out for their deceptive words and misplaced sense of security in the temple.

Of course, Jeremiah was not writing these words with America in mind, but the same type of idolatry is happening among us. Our dedication to keep America a Christian nation through legislation and culture warring is similar to what the people of Jerusalem were doing. We idolize our Christian America in a way that places our security in the institution more than in Jesus.

God is not obligated to bless the nation of America. There is no covenant between God and America that he will grant ongoing prosperity and security to the nation because of the founding fathers. This is the theology many American Christians hold to, and it’s pure idolatry—in the same way it was for the people of Judah.

God is not obligated to bless the nation of America. Any theology that says so is pure idolatry. Click To Tweet

True Christian Ethics 

If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm (Jeremiah 7:5-6)

The problem was that while Judah was giving great care and dedication to temple rituals, they made absolutely no effort to keep the ethical demands of the covenant. 

In these verses, Jeremiah clearly states the areas in which Jerusalem was not upholding the covenant. For the nation of Judah, not upholding these aspects of the covenant meant judgment. Further on in chapter 7, Jeremiah gives specific examples of the ways Judah was violating the covenant with God.

Now, the parallels between Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon and America do not extend to the quid pro quo dynamics of the covenant. God established a very specific covenant with the nation of Israel that was not passed along to Christians and certainly not to America. But what is a one-to-one parallel is that the matters important to God in his rebuke of Israel in the days of Jeremiah are similarly prophetic in our own day. God cares that we live by Christian ethics and not merely Christian rituals. He cares about the way we treat one another. 

As Christians, our response to those who are vulnerable and marginalized should be rooted in our Christian ethics. We are continuing to see a disconnect between the matters God cares about and the matters American Christians care about. We try to proof text our policy stances to justify ourselves, but we can’t. In the way we view politics, policy, and daily life, we must care about the marginalized and vulnerable. 

Instead, we want the prosperity of a Christlike nation but don’t want to get our hands dirty with actually caring for others. We want all of the blessings and don’t want to make any of the sacrifices. We care far more for the benefits we personally will reap and don’t take the time to see how others are suffering. We especially don’t want to see or understand the suffering of others if it means we will have to step outside of our cozy and cushy corner of the world.

Adopting a worldview based on Jesus often means sacrificing our own privilege, safety, and security. It means choosing to be uncomfortable, rather than fighting for all of our personal comforts. What has happened in our idolizing of America is that we want all of the blessings and goodness to be poured out on us without extending the same to anyone else.

This is evident in the fact that we are passionate in our fight against abortion, but not in a fight for immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border or people of color being shot down in the streets. These are all things we need to care about, because these are all matters that affect the vulnerable and marginalized. 

We can’t only be concerned with the things that make us most comfortable. We have to actually want to see the goodness of Jesus poured out into the lives of others—even if that means sacrifice on our end. After all, sacrifice is a hallmark of the Christian faith.

God cares that we live by Christian ethics and not merely Christian rituals. He cares about the way we treat one another. Click To Tweet

The Answer

What the people of Judah were seeking was security during a time when it couldn’t be found. So, in a classic human response, they tried to make a more tangible sense of security. They idolized the temple and made this physical location their place of security. 

But as Jeremiah put it, “You are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.” (Jeremiah 7:7)

What they were looking for was never going to be found in the timber and stone. In order for the people of Judah to be delivered, they needed profound spiritual renewal and deep moral reform.

The same is needed for American Christians today.

There is no security in the ethical foundation America was built on. The American church can not stand on the foundation built by men who may or may not have believed in Christian ethics. This theology will most certainly fall short and really should be thrown out of our churches altogether. 

What we need is spiritual renewal and moral reformation. It’s time we become more concerned with being true Christians than living in a Christian nation.