A nation under God and a religion under God?

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(Photo: Unsplash / Andy Feliciotti)

Something very strange happened in the United States last Saturday night. This happened at a rally in San Antonio, Texas, which was supported by the nonprofit “American Faith” Christian information network. This organization was formed in July 2021 with the self-proclaimed intention to “advance the cause of truth and freedom” and to defend “American values ​​and freedoms”.

The organization operates with a distinctly right-wing tone and a particular vision of the “values ​​and freedoms” that are defended. In the deeply polarized world of the modern United States, the definition of these words is loaded with intense meaning – and contested.

At the rally, Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s senior national security adviser, spoke. Addressing the gathering, Flynn said, “If we are to have a nation under God, which we must, we must have a religion. A nation under God and a religion under God.”

Obviously he meant Christianity. Flynn was one of many speakers taking part in a so-called “ReAwaken America” ​​tour, which aims to promulgate “practical measures to fight back to protect American freedoms.”

Something of the controversial political nature of Flynn’s statements was further revealed when Flynn asserted that the United States was prophetically predicted and described as “the city on the hill” in the Gospel of Matthew. This form of confident American Christian nationalism is deeply rooted in conservative culture. While some applauded Flynn’s statements, others asked what would be the fate of those of other faiths, or no faith, in the type of nation Flynn envisioned?

Michael Flynn in context

Michael Flynn has a pretty colorful past. A retired United States Army Lieutenant General Flynn was sacked from his role as “Defense Intelligence Chief” by Barack Obama for alleged insubordination before becoming an aide to Donald Trump. However, his tenure as a national security adviser was short-lived as, in February 2017, he resigned following reports that he lied to the FBI regarding his communication with a senior Russian diplomat.

Later that year, he struck a deal, in which he pleaded guilty to a criminal charge as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the US election and the alleged connection between Trump and the Russia. In January 2020, he withdrew his guilty plea, and in November 2020, Flynn obtained a presidential pardon from Trump.

Meanwhile – as Trump’s re-election campaign faced growing problems – Flynn posted a video online in July 2020, in which he used phrases that experts say are often associated with the conspiracy movement. Q-Anon. Q-Anon believes that there is a “deep state” within the US government, which is controlled by a secret organization of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.

Flynn himself, it should be noted, never explicitly referred to Q-Anon in the video. Despite this, it’s worth noting that of the 10,500+ responses to Flynn’s tweet, many were from self-identified Q-Anon supporters, who thanked Flynn. In December 2020, the United Kingdom Independent The newspaper published a report stating that “Michael Flynn calls on Trump to suspend the constitution and declare martial law to re-run the election.” Certainly, Flynn is a controversial figure.

Now it looks like Flynn is calling for some sort of Christian domination of the United States.

Why it matters

At first glance, the San Antonio explosion on Saturday might appear to be yet another radicalized example of American right-wing extremism, in reaction to a Democrat with the recklessness to occupy the White House. However, Flynn’s views are rather too close to the mainstream to be so easily dismissed. A CNN report indicates that somewhere in the region 35% of Republicans continue to support Trump because they see him as protecting their Christian position; and they consider this position to be in danger. This means that Flynn’s statement in San Antonio is likely to resonate with tens of millions of white evangelical Republicans.

With Biden struggling in the polls, growing concerns about U.S. inflation, and the stuck U.S. political system, Republicans envision 2022 as the year in which they can regain control of Congress and the Senate. And all of this is happening against the backdrop of concerted Republican attempts to change the state’s electoral arrangements in ways that could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the presidential race in 2024.

It should be noted, at this point, that there is no convincing evidence of widespread electoral fraud that took place in 2020, despite the fact that these Republican measures are purported to be a response to such fraud. Many experts fear that the American democratic system faces an existential threat as a result of this concerted Republican campaign. This is especially the case, with Trump still dictating the mood music for the Republican Party; and hinting that he will run for president again in 2024. Trump is far from “the man of yesterday” and Flynn is part of the same ongoing phenomenon.

Just last week, a poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that two-thirds of Republicans still believe Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Even more alarmingly, nearly a third of those Republicans believe that the American patriots could, in the future, resort to violence “in order to save our country”. Based on past experience, it is reasonable to assume that this includes a large number of right-wing evangelicals.

It brings us back to Michael Flynn and that weird statement in San Antonio. At one point, the idea that millions of Christians in an advanced democracy might choose to support a movement to impose their particular political agenda on their nation, via a political party that seems determined to abandon democratic norms in order to take power, would have seemed the makings of overheated political thrillers. However, when it comes to the United States, I’ve learned to never say never!

A Nation Under God: “What Does This Mean?

Well, originally that clearly didn’t mean anything like Michael Flynn’s suggestion. To begin with, the US constitution seeks to separate the functioning of the state from any form of religious faith. The U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1788, made no mention of religion except for section six which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for an office or a public trust under the United States. United States “.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed in 1791, defined the federal government’s commitment to the completely free exercise of religion. In addition, it prohibits the establishment of an official Church.

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson spoke of “a wall of separation between Church and State”. This perspective was embodied in Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, 1797, which unequivocally stated that “the government of the United States of America is in no way founded on the Christian religion …” Obviously, this foundational perspective has been largely forgotten by millions of modern Americans.

Another matter is the pledge of allegiance. It currently reads:

I swear allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the

Republic that it represents, a Nation under God, indivisible, with freedom

and justice for all. “

The pledge that is used today has its ultimate origins in the one designed in 1892, which read:

I swear allegiance to my flag and to the Republic it represents, a

nation, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all. “

There was no mention of God. While the promise was changed slightly in the 1920s, it wasn’t until 1954 that the words “under God” were officially promulgated by President Eisenhower. The actual sentence echoed the words of Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg speech, but Eisenhower asserted that it represented something more fundamental, insisting that “we reaffirm the transcendence of religious faith in heritage and l ‘future of America’. If so, it has taken a long time to do so since the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

What this shows is that the view people have of the past often reveals more about the mythology of the present than about the events of history. Regardless of how the United States looks today, it was not originally created to be a Christian nation. Indeed, the idea of ​​a religious belief defining it was quite foreign to its founders and to the constitution.

Even this phrase “a nation under God” was carefully worded to ensure that it had no specific denominational character. It could be recited by members of any religion in the world. And, moreover, it was so vaguely named that even those who had no faith in any god could recite it without feeling that it really affected them in any significant or demanding way.

Therefore, Michael Flynn – and, arguably, millions of fellow Americans – have ambitions for their nation that do not match his constitutional heritage.

A lesson for all of us

What emerges from this is that there may be a strong tendency to invent the past, in order to adapt to the ideology of the present. It is certainly not limited to the United States.

More importantly, for all of us who are Christians, is the reminder that the New Testament simply does not give us any kind of model for imposing faith on others. It certainly does not provide advice on the political path to becoming the only acceptable faith in a nation. Since we would very much like to see the society function according to Christian principles, this leaves us somewhat puzzling. And this challenge applies no matter what nation we live in.

The whole tone of the New Testament is one of “radical influence”, rather than “political imposition.” The latter may seem like a shortcut to the former, but history shows that too often it is a dead end, which provokes the sacrifice of love in the service of legalism and persecution.

This is something Michael Flynn and the organizers of ‘ReAwaken America’ would do well to reflect on. Additionally, they may want to delve a little deeper into the actual history of the United States and its constitutional origins. It can be a surprising read.

In the meantime, it is clear that what some have called the “battle for the soul of America” is far from over. It looks like we’re just in the meantime before the next round of this epic fight begins.

Martyn Whittock is an Evangelical and Chartered Lay Pastor of the Church of England. Historian and author, or co-author, of fifty-three books, his work covers a wide range of historical and theological themes. Additionally, as a commentator and columnist, he has written for a number of print and online news platforms; has been interviewed on radio broadcasts exploring the interplay of faith and politics; and appeared on Sky News to discuss political events in the United States. His most recent books include: Trump and the Puritans (2020), The Secret History of Soviet Russia’s Police State (2020), Daughters of Eve (2021), Jesus the Unauthorized Biography (2021) and The End Times, Again? (2021).


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