This is the title of this week’s Patheos column. I realize that the question of whether America is a Christian nation is more complicated than the way I present it here, but I thought I would at least be a little provocative with the column. You can learn more by reading Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.
Here is a taste of this week’s column:
Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, a 1797 agreement between the United States and Tripoli, a Muslim nation located on the Barbary Coast of northern Africa, specifically states: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The treaty was necessary because Barbary pirates, under the sanction of Tripoli, were capturing American ships and selling crew members into slavery. Any nation that wanted to trade freely in the region was forced to negotiate a peace treaty with the Barbary States, which usually included some kind of monetary tribute.
The American negotiators of this treaty did not want the religious differences between the United States and Tripoli to hinder attempts at reaching a trade agreement. Claiming that the United States was not “founded on the Christian religion” probably made negotiations proceed more smoothly. But today this brief religious reference in a rather obscure treaty in the history of American diplomacy has played a prominent role in the debate over whether the United States was founded as a Christian nation. It has become one of the most deadly arrows in the quiver of those who oppose the idea that the country was founded on Christian principles.
If the Treaty of Tripoli is correct, and the United States was not “founded on the Christian religion,” then someone forgot to tell the American people.
Read the rest at Patheos.
Tom Van Dyke says
John, yr column at Patheos ends with
But one thing is for sure — the members of today's Christian Right who argue that the United States is a Christian nation have a good portion of American history on their side.
Is there a “don't” missing here, or is this your position?
[As for the Treaty of Tripoli, I've found no evidence the senate ever examined or debated the phrase in question
“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Not that I would argue it is, mind you. There's a ton of wiggle room in that statement. Tons.]