Eugene Cho

“america is not a christian, jewish, or muslim nation…”

courtesy of White House

What did you think of President Obama’s speech at the Turkish Press Conference?  And this quote from his speech:

…”American is not a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim nation…”

Here’s the above sentence in the larger context:

I think that where — where there’s the most promise of building stronger U.S.-Turkish relations is in the recognition that Turkey and the United States can build a model partnership in which a predominantly Christian nation and a predominantly Muslim nation, a Western nation and a nation that straddles two continents — that we can create a modern international community that is respectful, that is secure, that is prosperous; that there are not tensions, inevitable tensions, between cultures, which I think is extraordinarily important.

That’s something that’s very important to me. And I’ve said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is — although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.

I think Turkey was — modern Turkey was founded with a similar set of principles, and yet what we’re seeing is in both countries that promise of a secular country that is respectful of religious freedom, respectful of rule of law, respectful of freedom, upholding these values and being willing to stand up for them in the international stage. If we are joined together in delivering that message, East and West, to — to the world, then I think that we can have an extraordinary impact. And I’m very much looking forward to that partnership in the days to come.

And if you’re interested, the complete transcript.

My thoughts: Obama’s statement is accurate.  We are a nation with many Christians but we are not a Christian nation. To call ourselves as such would be a lie and dangerous. And while in an ideal world, I’d like to say and believe with honest conviction that we are a Christian nation, we simply are not a Christian nation.  We are influenced by certain values that are informed by the Scriptures & the Judeo-Christian worldview and I am very grateful for that but…

How could we possibly be a Christian nation?

I think we sometimes make this mistake of thinking that because have many “Christians” or churches or Christian conferences/gatherings…we must be a Christian nation.

I liken it to his example that I share in PreMarital Counseling. Its’s one of the greatest myths in marriage:

Just because two Christians – Joe Christian and Jane Christian – get married doesn’t equate a God honoring Christian marriage.  It simply means two Christians are living together.

America is a country influenced by Judeo Christian values; by God’s grace, it has stories (past & present) of the movement of the Holy Spirit; it has many people that identify themselves as Christians – but it is not a Christian nation. Even despite the American Patiot’s Bible.


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25 Responses

  1. Bruce Porteous says:

    Very good, Eugene. We gave up thinking that Britain was a Christian nation many years ago – although we pray for and look forward to a Christian revival on these shores. I’ll echo all of what you say – and we pray that the US too will likewise continue to experience God’s blessing in true Holy Spirit power in the lives of many individuals of all nationalities and backgrounds.

  2. Tony Lin says:

    What? American is not a Christian nation!?! I’m sending my American Heritage Bible back right now! I want my money back. I can’t believe that Bible lied to me… they lied to me!!

  3. abe says:

    an interesting read: The Myth of A Christian Nation _Gregory Boyd.

  4. fergie says:

    isn’t it readily apparent that the USA is not a Christian Nation? If it were, would we have these selfish greed problems? Would there be tired, poor, hungry people in our country?

  5. I really appreciated his speech in Cairo as well. I teared up as he recounted the ways Islam has served humanity and Christianity and blessed all of us. And he did it all without any need to be defensive about his faith in Christ. I took a break from work to watch it and I’m glad I did because I consider it a landmark moment that I’ll likely remember for the rest of my life.

  6. To leave a comment that better answers your prompt:

    I think the phrase “Christian Nation” is an oxymoron. Christianity was a response to an empire and our nation must constantly fight to avoid becoming an empire. Faith and nations work together well but they combine quite poorly.

  7. Jon says:

    I agree. I was having a similar discussion today with a coworker at work. I love my faith and Christ, but I would like to go one step further (not sure how this will go over with anyone, but still worth asking?): I would like to see Christians and Christianity “stand up” in defense of other faiths, namely Muslims right now. There is a discouraging stereotype in this country that the Muslim faith equates to terrorism and that simply isn’t true. Yes, many terrorists of late happen to be Muslim and the faith has been twisted and distorted to attain a goal, but it is not the way of the faith as a whole. In fact the same could be said about Christianity over the years, yet we turn a blind eye to the blemishes on our own record. I think I should stop there.

  8. Correct: it’s not a Christian nation. Independent America was founded by deists. Politics should be secular (religiously neutral, fair to all, giving Christians freedom to thrive) not secularist (anti-religious).

  9. Phil says:

    Very good, I agree….when we believe the lie that we are a Christian nation, then we are lulled to sleep and do not do the work of the Lord to proclaim His message and to be His hands and feet and to love our neighbors.

  10. RK says:

    so very true. and our history has been deplorable with homegrown terrorist orgs such as kkk and sometimes the fbi. we have been no different than other countries in our treatment of “others” in in our borders. most don’t assume all christains are terrorist so i don’t get the whole muslim terroirst thing.

  11. Kacie says:

    I liked his speech, and blogged about it here:

    Obama’s foreign policy views are my favorite thing about him, I am almost completely in line with all of his philosophy.

    His speech inspired a long discussion with friends about whether or not the Islamic world can follow the same path that the Christian world has done and move from having faith and empire tied together to having politics and faith interact but stay separate. My view is that in many places it already is separate.

  12. Michelle says:

    Before anyone talks about whether any nation is a Christian nation or not, perhaps we should start by defining what exactly a Christian nation is?

    I grew up with the understanding of our American history that America began as a country that provided a place for people who were being religiously persecuted (the majority of which were Christians) We have Judeo/Christian values as the foundation of our laws and morality. Not everyone in America is forced to be a Christian and thank God, everyone is FREE to worship as they see fit. THAT fact is a product of Christian/judeo faith. If you are a Christian in a Muslim country, I doubt you will find such freedom to worship freely.

  13. Arukiyomi says:

    absolutely agree with that. I know some of his policies are not what I’d wish for but every time I’ve heard this guy talk, he makes sense to me. I haven’t heard him that much I’ll just add… before running for cover.

    I’m a big fan of Papua New Guinea and follow a ton of blogs related to it. Many PNGans are fraught because they see so much non-/anit-Christian behaviour in their nation and have historically called themselves a Christian nation. Quite frankly, they’re embarrassed. But as soon as you remove the label, you start to explore the nation as it really is. It’s very helpful and, for anyone involved in anthropolgy, an absolutely essential step to take.

    The question is then, particularly for those outside the US who have to engage with it, if the values of the nation are not Christian, what exactly are these shared values he mentions you have?

  14. Kacie I think has put her finger on the issue at hand, the connection between Faith and Empire. I would say I had an anti-imperial faith. I would say my faith was directly in opposition to the desire of conquest and subjugation.

    I do congratulate Obama for moving the language on so much, but ultimately, I know that my allegiance as a Christian is to God’s Church, the marginalised and creation.

  15. steve s says:

    I agree with the sentiment, we aren’t a Christian nation by any stretch of imagination. But you can’t help but notice that half of our country DOES call this a Christian nation. So Obama is still just playing political games and slapping the hand of the other half of America.

    The difference with Obama is not that he doesn’t play politics, or isn’t polemical, or patronising, or arrogant, (after all, he is a politician; it is impossible to run for president without some degree of arrogance) it is simply that he is not on the same part of the political spectrum as our former president…

    Politics is politics.

  16. pastoralan says:

    I get your point about America not being a Christian nation. Anyone paying attention to culture already knows that. But we don’t want to admit it. We do like to think we are a Christian nation. But, we are not.

    I do think we are built in many ways on the Judeo-Christian ethic. And that has benefitted Christians. So, before we jump on the “what a great speech” bandwagon, we should not be careful. But we should be ready to pay the consequences of universalism. Talking this out on a blog is cool. But we are watching this go down in a way that makes all religion truth. Our culture has indeed changed.

    What alarms me is that we are so casual to the sweeping away of a Christian tone or feeling or maybe a better word is “foundation.” We just don’t seem to care that we are not putting Arab/Islamic countries in front of Israel, God’s chosen people. The ushering in a one world government with Christians just standing around, not acting as if it shouldn’t happen, because the word says it will. No, our apathy is that we are saying nothing about the massive leveling of Christianity in our culture. How?

    1. June is now Transgender, Gay, and Lesbian month. And no Christians are saying anything. Those who choose the homosexual lifestyle are people who deserve respect as God’s creation. The sin is clear, but we act now as if it’s normal. The homosexual lifestyle is now equated with racial equality. Where’s the outrage for that? But hey, maybe we will decide the word is not true either. We can make all other books the word of God too. (just kidding, well, it has already happened, right? Isn’t that what we are saying at least culturally?)

    2. Abortion is now a cultural staple. But hey, no big deal right? We are not a Christian nation, so let’s just give in.

    I know those are two issues that paint me as a “religious right” sounding person. I’m not. I’m a kingdom person. I could care less about politics. BUT, I’m not one to stand by and let things happen that are wrong, and call them good.

    The President’s speech reveals his theology and philosophy. He’s a universalist as was President Bush. I can’t wait for the reporters to starting asking President Obama if he believes “the Christian faith and the Islamic faith pray to the same God?” The President doesn’t believe Jesus is the only way. That’s why he doesn’t mind saying what he says about the US not being a Christian nation.

    I get his point. He’s right on some levels. But the difference is he’s saying what other Presidents has not said. Isn’t he making his theology/philosophy (humanistic secularism) policy?

    It’s all good. Matt 24 says these things will happen as we see the end time clouds on the horizon.

    I think it’s important for believers in Christ to stick together apart from politics.

  17. pastoralan says:

    Delete NOT in second paragraph above. Should be “We just don’t seem to care that we are putting Arab/Islamic countries in front of Israel, God’s chosen people.”

    Sorry for the awkward typos. Typing a little fast.

  18. Andy M says:

    Politics and government must be universalist, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t celebrate that fact. You say that Barack Obama is a universalist, have you discussed his personal faith with him? He has stated that he is a christian, but you judge his theology purely by his political viewpoints. And you do the same with Bush, have you spoken with him too? I think it is obvious that any president will be influenced by his religious views, but as a leader of multi-religion, multi-cultural nation he is a representative of all it’s citizens, not just the christian ones. In many other countries, when the primary leader only represents a portion of the population, we call it tyranny and oppression.

    In a multi-religion, multi-cultural nation like we are in, there must be a universalist government, or else you have a state church, it is either/or. And a universalist government does not equate to a universalist theology in all of the churches.

    I am a Christian. I put my faith in Jesus. Yet I have political opinions that differ than yours, does that make me less of a Christian? Does that make me a universalist?

    And as far as putting other countries before Israel. Israel has a awful track record of atrocities most vividly shown in their recent blasting of the Gaza Strip, in which they killed over 1,000 people, at least half of them civilians including many children, as a retaliation for the killings of something like 15 Israelis by Palestinians. Tell me, do we just look the other way from a slaughter of innocents because they are “God’s people”? That doesn’t make any sense with the God of the Bible. Read “In God’s Time” by Craig Hill, and/or “Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright and be open to a different point of view regarding dispensationalism and the end times. As a christian, I’m not completely convinced of Israel’s “right” to occupy the land and oppress the former inhabitants. Oppression of the poor and the foreigners is what got them kicked out of the land in the first place, in the Exile .

    I apologize for getting on a bit of a rant, but I am tired of mischaracterizations by so many christians about our president, about our nations history, and about Israel. I am in the odd position around where I live in that I am not only Pro-Israel, I am also Pro-Palestinian. And for the matter I am Pro-Iraqi, Iranian, Tibetan, Chinese, Pakistani, Syrian, Egyptian, Arabian, etc. It is not an either/or, (either be Pro-Israel, or Pro-Palestinian). I am pro peace and well-being for all nations, and I don’t appreciate being only given an either/or option when it comes to promoting peace among all the nations.

    I thank God that our president is making statements that we are not a christian nation. He is making them primarily to the Islamic countries, and it is good for the Gospel, because the Islamic countries equate Christianity with all of the sin and wickedness that they see coming out of the U.S., even things that have absolutely nothing to do with American Christianity. But because they see the U.S. as a christian nation, they are no longer interested in the Gospel, because of the wickedness attached to it’s name. Barack Obama’s statements are good for the message of Christ.

  19. Right on, brother. My sentiments excatly.

  20. Andy M, I think by ‘universalist’ you don’t necessarily mean theological universalism but what I call secular: the state belongs to no religion thus to all religions. So we’re on the same page with this.

  21. .elise.anne. says:

    I think Andy M is on to something when he says that disassociating Christianity with the US will help people who have been oppressed by the US disassociate the Gospel from that oppression. Man!

    Also, someone said, what would a Christian nation be?

    I guess that would be something with the national church/religion, where it is either illegal to be of a different religion, or where your citizenship determines your eternal destination.

    What?! I think even most Christians who claim the Christian nation theology wouldn’t say that the above is Biblical or Christlike. So what do they want/think? We have to be a multireligious nation if we dont believe that citizenship determines eternal destination.

  22. Andy M says:

    I do think that we are on the same page. Though, I do think that pastoralan does mean it as theological universalism. He can clarify if he means otherwise, but that is how I read his comment.

  23. pam says:

    Andy M – Completely agree. I have talked with Barack Obama about his faith (two years ago before he was President), an he was definitely not a universalist. He is committed to separation of church and state, but articulates very well that our values come from our personal beliefs. Leaders will always lead from their values (leaders will say to me they are not making decisions that are in line with their values, and I will say ‘then there are values that sre more important to you thatn the ones you are espousing’).

    And the idea that we are moving away from being a Christian nation is hard to accept. When exactly were the “Christian Nation days”? When we were killing Native Americans? Starting our economy on the backs of slaves? Living with and supporting the horrors of segregation (and supporting it Biblicaly from the pulpits of our churches)? When exaclty was the the great Christian age the is such a tragedy to be leaving behind?

  24. justahuman says:

    I agree with his statement. Our founding fathers went to great lengths to prevent it from becoming such a thing.
    We do have at least one other reason to doubt it! I think we are the country that has the longest record of occupying the stolen land of another group of citizens!
    I still hear famous people, pastors and politicians preaching about ‘RACE’! There is only ONE RACE – HUMAN!

  25. HT says:

    I totally agree. A nation is made of people and half of people I know aren’t Christian. I’ve know a few Christians who have still opposed President Obama just because of his ideals of supporting all type of human kinds…Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc…and of course his Muslim father background. And because I voted for president Obama, these Christians have doubts of my Christianity belief. I believe in human rights and peace regardless of religious difference. Did God teach us to love one another even to love our enemy? Aren’t we all come from the same Father?

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove .
May we keep working 
on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
is the great temptation 
of our times.

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