Members of American minority populations who have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ have wrestled with the implications of America’s sin to their faith. African Americans, rejecting discriminatory practices in established churches in the 18th and 19th centuries, formed their own churches and denominations that remain largely segregated to this day. There is little conflict between the churches; they exist autonomously alongside each other, almost as if to each other they scarcely exist. This separation, as well as similar involving Christians of Latino heritage, and, to a lesser extent, Asian heritage, results in divisions among Americans who otherwise share the same faith of Jesus. Many churches lament this Sunday-morning segregation, so why does it persist?
Christianity or What?
Christianity’s roots are in the Middle East, and it spread from there to Africa, Asia, and Europe within its first 100 years. About fourteen centuries later, it spread by colonial settlement to the New World of North, Central, and South America.
In the United States, in churches attended by members of the majority population, one of the strong features that distinguish them from those attended by minority populations is the element of intense patriotism. Not that minority church members are less patriotic; it simply is not as aligned with their faith. This patriotic element manifests itself in high regard for the national flag (not that minorities disregard the flag), the veneration of the military and law-enforcement agencies, being enamored with guns, and the elevation of parts of the Constitution to near-Scriptural status.
This element was not part of the first-Century Church or of its progeny throughout the world. It is unique to the United States of America, having evolved after settlement of Christians from Europe, taking on its own flavor in reflection of American culture and the innate belief in American exceptionalism. Of course, in every nation, churches are influenced by their culture and exhibit certain national or regional features. But I suggest that this feature of American Christianity stands out large and loud, and it negatively influences the appearance of Christianity to non-Christians both home and abroad.
Is it really Christianity with Jesus Christ at its center? Or, would it be more accurate to call it something like Christo-Americanism, a spiritual eccentric, the mixing of nationalism and patriotism with Jesus Christ? If so, it is a bad mixture, because Christianity is about Christ alone!
The Political Divide
In the predominant two-party system of American government, increasingly it is characterized as Left vs. Right and vice versa. But a close examination of recent national elections exposes a strong cleavage between the majority and minority Christian communities.
A large proportion of Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump for President in 2016, but not all Christians were in this camp – especially among minorities. Those who voted predominately Republican said that their stance against abortion, their concern about LGBTQ rights, the makeup of the Supreme Court, and political correctness lie at the heart of their political position. But other than the nomination of a conservative Supreme-Court Justice, President Trump’s first-year agenda has largely been economic – with his “America first” policies.
Many Christians have opposed his administration’s stance on immigration, healthcare, climate change, and racial issues. It seems that this presidency, more than those that preceded it, has highlighted, if not exacerbated, the growing gap between the two Christian camps.
From the beginning, the governing of the United States has been a well-conceived, competitive process designed to avoid the inequities of totalitarian governments. That is a good thing! It is not the differing viewpoints of competing political positions that I call out here; it is the division along moral, ethical, and humanitarian lines between those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. The divisive effect upon American Christianity flies in the face of the unity that Jesus specified for His followers. It is not the fact of this division that I cite; it is that the division is unacceptable in God’s sight. According to Jesus’ prayer, as explained in the book Echo of Jesus’ Prayer – in the Church and supported in the Blogs on this website, His followers are to be one with each other as He is one with the Father. Unity not only affects personal relationships that Jesus commands to be based on love, it also affects the viewpoints of non-Christians toward Jesus Himself as well as the Church. For details on these points, please read the book.
If as His followers we take His prayer seriously, we will sincerely consider reconciliation of these differences.