Learning Unit #09 Lecture: “Was the USA Founded as a Christian Nation-State?”
The Great Awakening If you were an average colonist in the 1700s, your intellectual stimulation came from the minister’s sermon. In a series of enthusiastic revivals spanning the middle decades of the 1700s, the message of many preachers bore the imprint of evangelicalism--which emphasized an emotionalGeorge Whitefield’s conversion experience aspreaching was the sign of individualaimed at the heart salvation.not the head.
The impact of the Great Awakening was felt in both the coastal regions & the backcountry--that land across the Fall Line spilling into and across the Appalachian Mountains. Many people here did not go to church. Some because they engaged in folk practices that today would be labeled ‘magic’ or . ‘occultism.’ Others because they did not have regular ministers; the pattern & growth of white settlement had outpaced the abilities of churches to supply preachers. During the 1700s, the largest European immigrant group arriving in the colonies was Scots-Irish. They were most likely to settle in the backcountry & identify with either Presbyterians or Baptists. Backcountry settlers & their colonial governments clashed often over Indian policy. Until about 1820, theThe Geography of the Great major divisions in white America were -- A shortage to aAwakeningbackcountry ledof trained between Easterners and Westerners,ministers in the not Northerners and Southerners!reliance on circuit riders and laypreachers.
What changes occurred in ProtestantChristianity during the Great Awakening?• The “born again” Christian appears. If you had asked an Anglican in 1725 what being “born again” meant he/ she would have told you, “That will happen at the Second Coming.” Prior to the rise of Methodism, Anglicans had no expectation of an emotional conversion experience so profound it would cause one to give up dancing, drinking, gambling, etc.• There was a reaction against educated clergy and a turning to lay preachers or “exhorters,” especially among the Baptists. If the established clergymen (“Old Lights”) were educated but NOT “born again,” evangelicals (“New Lights”) believed they must split off and form new congregations of the like-minded.• New denominations like the Baptists and Methodists emerged as the evangelical sects most likely to survive, though they existed largely on the fringe of American religion until the 1830s.
Edwards’ sermons are creditedwith kicking off the G.A. Hebelieved that God should beplaced at the center of humanExistence; his New EnglandCalvinist listeners heardambiguous messages thatseemed to say they could play apart in their salvations. Thiswas earth-shaking news toPuritan ears! Their response Jonathan Edwards,was enthusiastic, literally. 1703-1758• “Pressing into the Kingdom is Edwards was the grandfather of not a thing impossible.” another famous American, Aaron• “You can’t control salvation,” Burr, the Vice-President who killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804. BUT “If you try, God will aid your salvation.”
Evangelist George Whitefield The Great Awakening was also occurring among Protestants in England and Germany. George Whitefield, the English ‘rock star preacher’ of that era, toured the colonies and preached outside in a portable pulpit to tens of thousands. Ben Franklin was so moved he even contributed money and became Whitefield’s American publisher--although Franklin was a Deist, the polar opposite of an Evangelical!
George Whitefield’s portable pulpitWhitefield’s message emphasizedthe emotional conversion experiencecomplete with all its physicalmanifestations--a pricking sensation inthe heart, fainting, shouting, dancing,testifying, trance, etc., etc. He calledon people to become the instrumentsof their own salvation, attackingtraditional sources of church authorityand the belief of the upper classes that‘simple folk’ had no minds of their own.He produced thousands of conversionsand influenced countless imitators ofboth his speaking style and sermoncontent.
The BaptistsAdult baptism by immersion was not the norm in the 1700s; infantbaptism was. Early Baptists in America insisted on adult baptism;the autonomy of each congregation; and relied on lay preachers.
During the Great Awakening, the Methodists still considered themselves part of the Church of England. They became the “born again” evangelical wing of the Anglicans prior to splitting off after the American Revolution (which Wesley opposed). Unlike the Baptists, Methodists had a church hierarchy; practiced infantJohn Wesley, baptism; and onlyfounder of the ordained (i.e., Methodists educated) ministers could offer Communion.
English cartoon lampooning Whitefield and religious revival fanatics.Although the early Baptist and Methodists had real differences over methods andchurch government, they both placed emphasis on the all-important emotionalconversion experience. In the 1700s, worship services for both denominationsbore more resemblance to the emotional, ecstatic, expressive religious practicesassociated nowadays with various Pentecostal or Holiness sects than to modernBaptists and Methodists. Both denominations started out opposing slavery.
Results of the Great Awakening• Significant numbers of Americans North and South (about 1 in 20) came to share a common understanding of basic Christian faith and an evangelical worldview; Post-millennialism.• Americans became more sharply polarized-- not so much among rival denominations as between traditionalists and the “born again” evangelicals within each denomination.• Education – Colleges and schools started (U. of Penn; UNC; Princeton) to train (mainly Presbyterian) ministers.• Women’s participation.• Conversion of enslaved Africans; early evangelical movement was anti-slavery but later changed to pro-slavery in 1800s.
• Humans do play a part and take responsibility for their salvation; Calvinism receives a death blow but will still take some time to wither away.• The old religious establishment falls apart in the North and South; revivalists vs. orthodoxy; religious life had been made democratic; it would take only one more step to go from questioning religious authority to questioning political authority.• With all their religious fervor, it became easy for people to believe there was some greater purpose to the revivals; something BIG (like the Millennium) was about to happen. Of course, the American Revolution occurred instead.
Ironically, the characteristic emotionalism of the Great Awakening revivals sparked an opposing reaction in the form of a rational humanist alternative called Deism (which also appeared in Europe). Deism is defined not only as the belief that God, the “Supreme Architect,” reveals himself in his “handiwork,” i.e. the created world humans experience as reality, but also that God could only be understood through “a rational study of nature.”Deists deny the Resurrection, the divinity of Christ, and the TriuneGodhead. They believe in a “clockwork universe” in which theCreator no longer intervenes, and that Jesus was a philosopher.
Most Founders Were Either Deists or High- Church Anglicans, NOT EvangelicalsWashington, Jefferson,Franklin, Thomas Paine,Ethan Allen--all helddeistic beliefs; none wereChristians. Patrick Henry,son of a Presbyterian Allenminister, was the only well-known evangelical in thegroup. The United States istoday the most religiouscountry in the West, but it’s Painebecause of diversity and A Gallery of American Deists (above) and--sectarianism--both within andoutside of Christianity--NOT Patrickbecause our “Founding Henry, who was anFathers” were Christians! evangelical
What Does ‘Founded’ Mean?The majority of Americans in 1789 wereprobably Christian in varying degrees. BUT(and this is critical) to “found a nation” on areligion requires MUCH more than the factthat a majority of the public and its officialspractices a particular religion and isaccommodated in those practices by thegovernment. To found a nation on a religionmeans that the principles of a particularreligion are the primary if not sole basisupon which the national government existsand is structured.
In a nation founded as a secular nation (that is, not founded on any religionIn a nation founded as a Christian nation one would expect to see the but instead on a religiously neutral basis) one would expect to see thefollowing occur. Did any of these in fact happen? following occur. Did any of these in fact happen?1. Declare in the Constitution that the nation is founded on Christianity NO 1. Make no declaration in the Constitution that the nation is founded on any religion such as Christianity. YES2. Declare in the Constitution that the government is ordained by God, as acovenant between God and the people (following Romans 13:1-2) NO 2. Declare in the Constitution that government is ordained by humans, as a social contract between humans (thus rejecting Romans 13:1-2) YES3. Declare in the Constitution rulers rule by the will of God NO 3. Declare in the Constitution that rulers rule by the will of the people YES4. Declare in the Constitution that God’s law is supreme NO 4. Declare in the Constitution that human-made law is supreme [***Note that for5. Require in the Constitution that all rulers take an oath to uphold God’s law as a Christian, this is idolatry] YEShighest law. NO 5. Require in the Constitution that all rulers take an oath to uphold human-made6. Require in the Constitution that rulers must profess to be Christians. NO law as the highest law. [***Note again, this is idolatry] YES7. Declare in the Constitution that Christianity is established as the official 6. Prohibit any religious tests for the rulers of the nation. YESreligion of the nation NO 7. Declare in the Constitution that government may not establish any religion as8. Require in the Constitution that citizens profess Christianity or be punished for the official religion. YESheresy/blasphemy NO 8. Declare in the Constitution that all citizens are free to profess any religion or no religion whatsoever [***Note again, this is idolatry] YES9. In drafting the Constitution, its writers would frequently appeal to Biblicalscripture, Biblical principles, and God’s commandments NO 9. In drafting the Constitution, the debaters would make almost no mention of the Bible, Biblical principles, or God’s commandment YES10. Upon release of the proposed Constitution, its writers would declare they hadfounded the nation on Christianity and its principles. NO 10. Upon release of the proposed Constitution, its writers would declare they had founded a nation designed using human reason. YES11. In arguing for the adoption of the proposed Constitution, its writers wouldappeal to Biblical scripture and godly principles for support. NO 11. In arguing for the adoption of the proposed Constitution, its writers would appeal to human rationality and reason for support. YES12. In arguing for the adoption of the proposed Constitution, its writers would saythe nation is like other Christian nations in world history. NO 12. In arguing for the adoption of the proposed Constitution, its writers would say the nation is like other non-Christian nations in history YES13. In arguing against the adoption of the Constitution, non-Christians wouldattack it for being based on Christianity NO 13. In arguing against the adoption of the Constitution, Christians would attack it for not being based on Christianity YES14. The new government would adopt Christian mottos and symbols. NO 14. The new government would adopt non-Christian mottos/symbols. YES15. Once the Constitution was adopted, the new rulers would be only professed,generally mainstream orthodox Christians. NO 15. Once the Constitution was adopted, the new rulers would by chance be of any religion, including non-Christian religions. YES16. Once the Constitution was adopted, when the question arises in the highestcourt of the nation, it would declare that god’s law is highest. NO 16. Once the Constitution was adopted, when the question arises in the highest court of the nation, it would declare that human law is highest. YES17. Once the Constitution was adopted, in relations with foreign nations, thegovernment would formally declare it is a Christian nation. NO 17. Once the Constitution was adopted, in relations with foreign nations, the government would declare it is not a Christian nation. YES18. Once the nation was created, foreign observers would recognize the fact thatthe nation was founded on Christianity. NO 18. Once the nation was created, foreign observers would recognize that the nation was not founded on any religion. YES