Over at Front Porch Republic Darryl Hart takes on the sloppy scholarship of those who try to discredit the Religious Right by connecting its members with theocrats and theonomists. He makes the case that those who believe America is a “Christian nation” have been around for a long time. Hart writes:
…But the point of this kvetch is not to weigh the brain mass of conservatives and liberals but to bring up a subject that religious historians should be teaching to the rest of the American population from their lecterns, articles, books, and blogs – it is that the Religious Right is nothing new in U.S. history and that scaring citizens with the apparently bizarre proposals of Christian conservatives is bad scholarship. Prior to the Religious Right, Protestants, whether liberal or fundamentalist, concocted various schemes to preserve the United States as a Christian (read: Protestant) nation, from the Civil War, to Prohibition, to the civil religion of the Cold War. During that time, Protestants had access to all sorts of presidents, even the ones who had their finger poised on the button to drop “the bomb.” John Foster Dulles may have mingled with a tonier set than Carl McIntire (though Dulles certainly did not wear a better suit), but his anti-communism and God-and-country outlook were not substantially different from fundamentalist anti-Communists like McIntire.
Hart is right. I am in the midst of making a similar argument in an essay on the history of the idea that America is a Christian nation. It will appear as the first chapter in my forthcoming “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Primer.” This idea is as old as the republic itself.