Introduction: An American Patriot Theology—Part 1
Americans have a unique origin and a unique privilege in our world. Spanish, Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Scottish, Italian, Jewish, Russian, African, Chinese, Vietnamese, Croatian, Bosnian, Czechoslovakian, and, of course, many tribes of Eurasian indigenous peoples who settled North, Central, and South America as early as 30,000 years ago.1 The most recent settling of America were the European colonization attempts, beginning with the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, Vasco de Gama, Henry Hudson, and Walter Raleigh. All of these early expeditions and efforts to colonize were economically and politically motivated; none of them were religiously oriented or motivated. A small number of pseudo-historians, and an even smaller number of actual scholars, have tried fitfully to prove that America was “founded as a Christian nation,” and that in recent times we have “lost our way,” or “forgotten our roots.”2 These claims are spurious at best, and outright fabrications at worst. Even more disconcerting are the works of provocateurs Ben Shapiro and Cheryl Chumley. These authors demonize an ambiguous leftist “enemy” and promote a blatantly violent Judeo-Christian revolution.3
As contemporary Christians in America in an increasingly secular society, it appeases our anxiety to believe that “America was founded as a Christian nation.” But this claim is neither truthful, nor helpful. It misleads us as we attempt to understand ourselves as Christians, or as citizens of the United States of America. Additionally, we tend to throw the term “patriot” around carelessly. Merriam-Webster defines a patriot as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” Now there is nothing wrong with being a patriot. I consider myself a patriot; however, a Christian patriot is defined by an entirely different set of beliefs and priorities than a patriot who does not have a commitment to God. This blog outlines in brief a model Christian theology for today’s American patriots.
Explorers, Entrepreneurs, Servants, and Criminals
North America was “discovered” by Leif Erikson, one of the Viking explorers from Iceland, in around C.E. 1000. Of course, North America was already inhabited by Eurasian tribal peoples for at least 28,000 years before Erikson came to the continent! However, once the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus landed on islands in what is now the Caribbean, and claimed them for Spain in 1492, there was a rush by all of the major European powers to colonize the Americas. The wealth of natural resources combined with the abundance of land made it the perfect place to add to the wealth and prestige of the European empires, as well as provide opportunity for the impoverished and persecuted.
From the Renaissance period through the Enlightenment and early Modern periods – roughly A.D. 1300-1700 – the European powers competed for the treasurers and opportunities of the new world. The French sent explorers, entrepreneurs, and traders to North America. The Dutch sent a small group of traders to what would become New York. The English claimed almost all of what could be called the “East Coast” of North America from Maine to Georgia. The Spanish claimed Florida, the Caribbean Islands, California, and a large swath of what would become the southwestern United States: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. As they would later treat Oceania – Australia – the English gave large swaths of land to the aristocracy in England and allowed men and women to sign contracts as indentured servants in order to find opportunity in the New World. Additionally, the English sent convicted criminals to the New World, in order to rid themselves of the nuisance.
These early settlers were by no means all Christians, but rather explorers, treasure hunters, entrepreneurs, and laborers who sought opportunity and wealth in the New World. The laborers, indentured servants, and criminals were given the opportunity to redeem themselves, win their freedom, and begin life anew. Many of those pioneers shaped the ethos of the United States today. The Lords who held land grants from the King had the opportunity to prosper beyond their wildest dreams and ultimately bring the wealth their opportunity bought back to England. This trade enriched the throne during a time of serious expansion and taxing continental warfare with both the Spanish and French.
Whereas both the Spanish and French sought primarily to cultivate, and purloin the New World of its riches in service of the old country, England had a much broader agenda. England not only wanted the wealth of the New World, but also wanted to colonize it and make it part of the greater empire. Because of the vast size of the continent, colonization itself was quite a task, and would take a measurable part of the home population to take up the opportunity. Thus the intent of New World colonization was complicated, consisting of: the desire for economic prosperity, the need to control the high seas in order to protect economic trade, the desire for power and prominence, the willingness to relocate questionable elements of the home population, and the willingness to dislocate the indigenous populations in order to achieve the goals of empire.
Religious Dissident Immigrants
The opportunity given to the lower-class trades workers and convicted criminals in England, was also given to Protestant dissidents in England, such as the Separatists, Puritans, Methodists, and Quakers. These religious sects had caused problems for the established Anglican church, and gladly were given safe passage and land grants to do as they pleased. This laissez-faire attitude towards the religious dissidents, criminals, and lower-class workers created a dynamic cultural environment in what would become the English colonies in North America.
The religious immigrants were not only people of spiritual resilience, but also tradesmen, and university educated clergy. In varying degrees, they provided an energetic Christian witness in the colonies. The Puritan presence in Massachusetts, the Dutch Reformed in New York, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Baptists in Rhode Island, the Roman Catholics in Maryland, the Anglicans in Virginia, and the Methodists in Georgia provided a general moral and spiritual influence for the populations in their regions. This influence however, was not always well received by the general populace. The more a heavy-handed influence was wielded, the more push back it received. The Massachusetts Bay Colony experiment of theocratic governance by the Puritan-Congregationalists lasted less than 60 years before their charter was revoked and the English crown established a broader secular governance. This ended the attempts in the colonies to establish a theocratic, or religious governance.
After the failure of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s attempt, churches and synagogues found a particular place in society for their existence and mission. Encouraging their congregations to moral, if not virtuous behavior, church leaders sought to disciple new believers and revive older believers, thereby creating a virtuous, productive society. By the early 18th century, established churches in the colonies began to experience a complacent membership. This complacency was remedied by the spiritual revivals of the “Great Awakenings.” The first Great Awakening took place from approximately 1720-1740 and the Second Great Awakening from 1795-1835. The first Awakening emphasized a renewed dedication to religion, while the second Awakening emphasized “soul-winning” as the vocation of the church. The church in America had found its path, but simultaneously guaranteed that its identity would be tied to its revivalist impulses and a purely spiritual social agenda.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for parts 2 & 3 in the coming weeks.
2 Author David Barton is the most notorious of these pseudo-scholars. His publication, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Wall Builder Press: 2016) has been debunked by dozens of scholars as “inaccurate,” “misleading,” with “unconfirmed quotations,” and “shoddy” research. Among the actual scholars, Dr. John Eidsmoe stands out as producing dubious scholarship among American historians, and American Christians. See John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987). See Stephen R. Alton, Book Review – Reviewing John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (1987), 53 Tex. B.J. 1128 (1990).
3 See Ben Shapiro, How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps (New York: Broadside Books, 2020); and Cheryl K. Chumley, Socialists Don’t Sleep: Christians Must Rise or America Will Fall (New York: Humanix Books, 2020). Shapiro is a Jewish, Harvard educated lawyer enamored with liberty and rights; his problem is that he does not seem to grasp the political science and sociological shifts behind the changes in culture and governance. Chumley, on the other hand, traffics in generating fear with a frail understanding of socialism and a fundamentalist notion of Christianity. Although capable writers, neither of these authors are promoted by reliable scholars because their works are incomplete, not well researched, and filled with crowd pleasing sloganeering.