As a lead-in to the July 4th holiday season, First Baptist Church, Dallas, paid a company to display on a DFW billboard, “America is a Christian Nation.”
The response from the “offended” was akin to Wyatt Earp’s famous line from the movie, Tombstone,” “Tell’em I’m comin’. And hell’s comin’ with me!” (You can read about all the drama from Dallas’ own local newspaper here.) In short, the hatefully biased editorial might as well have said, “How dare you proclaim a religious worldview different from mine!”
Let’s slow this down, think critically, and have some civil discourse, shall we?
There are two critical issues at play here.
First: Is America a Christian nation?
This answer is tricky because of how the question is presented.
For instance, if the question were asked, “Is Christianity the state religion of the United States?” The answer is an indisputable “no.”
I sat in an intriguing lecture given by sociologist, Tony Campolo, once. He rightly stated,
“America is not a Christian nation – but it is most certainly ‘spiritual.”
But, if the question was presented, “Was the United States created based on the principles of the Christian faith?” The answer is an indisputable “yes.”
Before those who are thinking, “How dare you question that America is a Christian nation??” google my address and remove the American flag that is proudly displayed outside my house, read on…
What, exactly, were the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers?
They were diverse.
Some of our Founding Fathers were professed believers in Christ.
Historians tend to believe, based on what he wrote, that George Washington was a professed Christian, having strongly believed not merely in a Creator/God, but that salvation was found by putting one’s faith in Christ alone.
Some Founding Fathers were Deists. (Including some of the most famous.)
“Deism” can be described as strongly believing in a Creator/God without believing that said Creator can be personally known and experienced through God the Son, Jesus Christ. This is why “Creator” was used in our Declaration of Independence rather than God or Christ.
For example, holding to deism, Thomas Jefferson fastidiously removed from his Bible all gospel accounts pertaining to miracles, including the resurrection of Christ because he didn’t believe in it. (See photo below. Read more about Thomas Jefferson and his religious beliefs here from the Smithsonian.)
Benjamin Franklin was asked point-blank about his religious beliefs. His wrote,
“Here is my Creed, I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we render to him, is doing Good to his other Children.”
But Franklin’s religious convictions require a delicate dance of interpretation. In the quote cited above, Franklin’s conviction is in perfect harmony with the gospel. But, in reference to Jesus Christ, he goes on to write,
As for Jesus of Nazareth … I think the system of Morals and Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw … but I have … some Doubts to his Divinity.”
Translation: Franklin had serious doubts as to whether Jesus was the Son of God.
My point? As I stated earlier, the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers were diverse.
Now, before the Anti-Christian-Nation folks raise the “I told you so” banner, be aware that, despite the Founding Fathers’ diverse convictions regarding the person of Jesus Christ, the following axioms are well founded and documented:
1) They believed in a transcendent God – a Creator who was not created, outside of time and space, existing outside of nature.
2) They believed in an afterlife where both good and bad behavior was either rewarded or punished. Ben Franklin affirmed,
“The soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.”
3) They believed in objective morality as put forth in scripture (killing, stealing, lying, adultery, etc. is inherently wrong).
So, what you’re telling me is that, although the Founding Fathers differed on beliefs about the Bible, the United States was still created based on Christian principles like the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ “sermon on the mount”? Yes. This is precisely why, to the consternation of many, some city court houses still display the Ten Commandments.
While some may work feverishly to deny the Founding Fathers’ respect for and use of biblical truth, the fact is that the Bible was clearly the foundation for their worldview. For example, John Adams professed to be Christian but did not believe in the divinity of Jesus (that Jesus is God – which is a central tenet of the Christian faith). Nonetheless, conveying his conviction regarding the wisdom and authority of the Bible, he wrote,
“Those general principles of Christianity are as external and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.” He went on to write, “The Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my… philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.”
Perhaps FBC, Dallas, wanted to employ “shock value” in their billboard to create interest (that certainly worked.) But, regardless of their rationale for choosing the particular wording, they have the constitutional right and freedom to convey their religious beliefs – regardless of how much the local mayor may not like it.
Which leads me to the second critical issue at play here…
The Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, has demonstrated absolutely zero knowledge and/or understanding of the First Amendment to our Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson was passionate in his conviction for the ratification of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
According to our own Constitution, the Dallas Mayor is completely free to believe what he wants to believe.
And so is FBC, Dallas (and the rest of us, as well.)
The billboard was paid for by private funds and can say whatever the client wants it to say. (Obviously, nudity, profanity, etc., are legitimate grounds for an advertisement’s removal. But not religious views.)
Clearly, the grandstanding by the Dallas Mayor is nothing but an attack on Christianity, free speech, and the freedom of religion.
The Mayor has employed his own, personal, subjective religious/political filter as to what ought – and ought not -to be displayed publicly, which is representative more of bigotry and hate than respect and tolerance.
Just last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the American Atheist Organization purchased and displayed huge billboards claiming the biblical story of Christ’s birth is “Fake News”.
Where were some of the billboards displayed? Dallas.
Sure, some Christians hollered and complained. Did the billboards result in a Dallas city government uproar? Nope.
I have absolutely no problem with the American Atheists posting the billboards. It’s their constitutional right. And I am thankful for that right. In fact, it offered wonderful opportunities to dialogue with people, allowing me to express why I personally believe the biblical Christian faith is logical, intelligent, and makes the best sense of the world around us.
In sum – and I can’t emphasize my conviction enough: the American Atheist Organization has every right to display whatever worldview they want. Although I don’t agree with their views, I celebrate their right to publicly share what they believe just as much as I celebrate mine.
Finally, not only does the Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, demonstrate an embarrassing understanding of the First Amendment, but, referencing FBC, Dallas’ “America is a Christian Nation” billboard, he demonstrates an equally embarrassing understanding of the Bible, making the following claim:
“That is not the Christ I follow. It’s not the Dallas I want to be – to say things that do not unite us but divide us. I never heard those words – that voice come out of Christ. Just the opposite. I was brought up to believe: Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine.”
Dear. God. Come on, Mike. Where did you find in the Bible, “Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine?” Can you quote me a chapter & verse for that one?
If Rawlings’ own comments weren’t so divisive, incendiary and biblically ignorant they would be laughable. (The gospels are replete with Jesus warning his listeners that following him will offend others, divide their families, and potentially even cost them their lives.”)
In short: the sad irony is that the Mayor is doing the exact same thing he is accusing FBC, Dallas, of doing. At its root, his words are nothing more than myopic bigotry.
So much for tolerance.
FBC, Dallas, could’ve done better in the original wording of their billboard.
AND THEY TRIED…
…by agreeing to change it to: “Is America a Christian Nation?” But, by that time, the politics, bigotry and intolerance had done its desired damage, pressuring the billboard company to back out altogether. No worries, though. Another billboard company has offered to display FBC’s message on twenty billboards. (Thank you, un-hateful billboard company, for possessing at least an elementary understanding of the U.S. Constitution.)
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick