“We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so.” With these words, British prime minister David Cameron marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible and sparked a national controversy that is making news this morning.
Did he mean that all British citizens are Christians? In a nation where four times as many Muslims go to mosque on Friday as Christians go to church on Sunday, such a claim would be hard to defend. Cameron clarified: “I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.”
Did Cameron mean that all British people should be Christians? Unfortunately, no: “Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith–or no faith–is somehow wrong.” So what did he mean? “What I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.”
Could the same be said of America?
On this day in 1620, the first Pilgrims came ashore in Massachusetts. According to tradition, they set foot on a granite boulder now called Plymouth Rock. Fast forward to 1765, as John Adams urged us not to forget the reasons they faced such trials: “Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation.”
What were these “civil and religious principles”? The Pilgrims refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter, and considered marriage a civil affair to be handled by civil magistrates rather than church ministers. But they were passionately committed to a moral code they found in Scripture.
Did the Founders agree? George Washington believed that “virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” But which “morality”? John Adams claimed that “the general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” Thomas Jefferson warned that “a nation must take measures to encourage its members along the paths of justice and morality.” But which “paths”? Two generations later, Abraham Lincoln called the Bible “this excellent and perfect moral code” and claimed, “it is suited to men in all the conditions of life, and inculcates all the duties they owe to their Creator, to themselves, and to their fellow men.”
Do you believe America was, is, or should be a Christian nation? We can debate the degree to which any “nation” by definition can be “Christian.” But on a week when 95% of Americans will be celebrating Christmas, is there a better time to pray that Americans would become Christians?