If America is a ‘Christian nation,’ where do I fit in?
I hope that I need not spend too much time justifying that I am a good American: I vote. I pay my bills and taxes. I attend my house of worship. I watch the news and read the paper. I do my best to give back to the community. I pledge allegiance to the flag. My dad was a World War II veteran, a colonel. His portrait in full dress uniform proudly hangs over my desk. I’ve been largely aligned with liberal causes but consider myself an independent thinker, having grown more conservative as I enter my seventh decade.
As I say, I’m a pretty darned good American.
Why, then, does my stomach go wavy every time some politico or talking-head refers to America as a “Christian nation”? Why do I get the willies even more when “Christian nation” becomes a rallying cry to stir up the crowd for a particular social or political agenda, almost invariably conservative? Would someone who believes that this is a “Christian nation” please tell me where I, the Jew, fit in?
Please tell me that this is not all about disbelief in the American Jew’s record of patriotism. Only the nuttiest of nuts would maintain that a Jewish cabal is disloyal to flag and country. No, we have fought America’s battles and served key roles in the commonweal. I suspect no one of consequence questioning Jewish loyalty.
Is it that the Christian and Jewish visions of America are that far askew? Don’t we still believe in the Judeo-Christian ethic, which the hyphen unites, not divides? Can we not hear the echo of Isaiah’s conscience in Jesus’ Beatitudes or the piety of the Chasidic masters in Jesus’ parables? Do we honestly believe that the Founding Fathers envisioned America as a place of exclusive Christian dominion? The documents that articulate our nation’s principles make it manifestly clear that they did not.
Do those who wave the flag for a “Christian America” consciously want to disenfranchise us from the American mainstream? Is it that we are not full-fledged residents, but guests at the doorstep of someone else’s country, upon whose benevolence we rely for our welcome? Is this the inference behind the rallying cry of a Palin, Huckabee, Bachmann, the tea partiers, et al?
I raise these concerns as questions, not assumptions, not to be coy, but because the Jew’s claim to full partnership in the American mainstream should be above reproach. The burden of proof thus shifts to anyone who asserts that America is a “Christian” nation. Tell us what you mean by “Christian America.” Tell us if and how we fit into your vision and loyalty to our country’s founding principles. Do we have reason to feel insecure if America were to embrace your attitude of exclusion? Is that your price tag on implementing a conservative social and political agenda?
If you say that we are just being hypersensitive, then so be it. Our history of disenfranchisement and worse justifies our hypersensitivity. America has blessed us … so far. To be excluded, even by inference, must perforce set off alarms. I’m sure you understand.
Many of our Christian friends deserve this caveat: If I were to believe that all Christians espoused the “Christian America” doctrine, I would have nothing more to discuss. But I encounter devout Christians every day who believe in the absolute fellowship of Christian and Jew, without equivocation. They live by the virtue of inclusivity, a vision of America that affords not merely citizenship but an equal voice to all its diverse citizenry. They chafe at the idea that the American vision grants supremacy to a particular faith. I cherish their friendship and want to believe that they represent real Christianity.
If, on the other hand, you have been quick to rattle off the shibboleth that America is a “Christian nation,” please think twice and twice again. Is that what you really mean? What does that imply about your Jewish neighbors, not to mention other minority faith communities? Is it just a function of insensitivity? That can be easily remedied.
If, though, it is really at the core of your vision of America, perhaps you ought to be more attentive to the call to “liberty and justice for all,” and less to the voices that whip up the crowd with their pious blather.
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Publication: The State; Date: Apr 21, 2011; Section: Opinion; Page: A8