The United States has no state-sanctioned religion and has long prided itself on being a country where its citizens can freely worship.
Yet there are still differing views and opinions about the nation’s religious roots and whether Christianity, the country’s largest religious group, should inform public policy, according to a recent poll.
Winthrop Poll’s Southern Focus investigation covered a number of hot topics, including abortion, former President Donald Trump’s connection to the events that took place on January 6 at the United States Capitol and the hearings Congressional Related, Racial Discrimination and the Confederate Battle Flag. .
The survey, which interviewed more than 2,200 adults in 11 southern states, also asked about the role of religion in government.
Half of all respondents said the federal government should not declare the United States a Christian nation. More than a third said the federal government should not uphold Christian values, and half agreed that the federal government should impose a strict separation of church and state.
However, half of respondents also agreed that the federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.
To get a deeper perspective on the topics of religion and government, The Post and Courier reached out to five religious leaders across the state from Protestant, Catholic and Jewish traditions. We asked them: do you think the United States is a Christian nation? Do you think it should be a Christian nation? Do you think the government should play a role in promoting Christian values?
Here are their responses, which have been edited for length and clarity.
Rabbi Stephanie Alexander, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Charleston
This is not a matter of personal opinion or a matter of community debate. The United States is not a Christian nation and was not meant to be. As President George Washington told the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island: “The government of the United States…gives no sanction to bigotry, no aid to persecution.
And as he later explained to the United Baptist Churches of Virginia: “If I had had the slightest apprehension that the Constitution written in the Convention, over which I had the honor of presiding, might endanger the rights religious of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have affixed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general government could ever be so administered as to render freedom of conscience uncertain, I beg you to be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than I to erect effective barriers against the horror of spiritual tyranny, and all kinds of religious persecution.
There are currently approximately 1,500 religious groups in the United States. This is the core of our country’s strength, not its weakness – but only when we respect each other, make room for each other; exercise sufficient humility and restraint to refrain from promoting one set of values, practices or beliefs over others. Our democracy and individual beliefs are strengthened when we uphold religious freedom that equally embraces all Americans of all faiths and beliefs.
Reverend Cress Darwin, Second Presbyterian, Charleston
As a father, citizen and churchman, it is essential that I embody values that are consistent with what I proclaim. These values are articulated in the Christian scriptures but recognized in other religions and secular writings – each only a prompt to consider in the complexity of these times of rancor.
- joy versus happiness
- Peace is more than the absence of conflict
- Patience: It leads to patience
- Kindness: Not to be confused with empowering or spineless behavior
- Goodness: what is moral and/or virtuous
- Loyalty: Loyalty, constancy, dedication to something which can vary greatly from person to person.
- Gentleness: whose trademark is humility
- Self-control: a necessary ability to control one’s passions
- Love: which is the decisive and overriding factor for a graceful and successful life with purpose and integrity.
Is the United States a Christian nation? No. Just look at the statistics. Should the actions of our communities and Congress be guided by the above list of values? Yes.
I believe that all individuals and entities could and should be guided by the above values, values that resonate beyond the boundaries of one way of believing.
You don’t have to be a Christian to lead a moral or ethical life. However, Christians would lead such a life in generosity and patience in loving obedience to Jesus.
Rev. Kylon Middleton, Mt. Zion AME, Charleston
The federal government of the United States was the first national government established without an official state-approved religion.
Given the religious pluralism that now exists in this country, as a matter of law, including constitutional law, the United States is a secular nation, not a Christian one.
As an ordained pastor in a Christian denomination, I agree with this because I think the principle of separation of church from state was integral to the authors’ understanding of religious liberty. They believed that any government intervention in the religious affairs of citizens would necessarily infringe on their religious freedom.
I realize that the aforementioned poll was conducted in all 11 southern states of the United States, but this does not reflect overall national sentiment or reality. A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that America’s Christian majority has been shrinking for years, and if recent trends continue, Christians could make up less than half of America’s population within decades.
In my view, as a Christian who has seen the religious right manipulate a political agenda that continues to undermine the social values of our culture, I believe the role of the Church and other religious organizations is to protect and strengthen morality in society. The government should reflect the shared values of all its citizens and should uphold a nation under God where freedom and justice are for all.
Father Jay Scott Newman, Catholic St. Mary’s, Greenville
The United States was founded largely by the descendants of those who came to North America from Europe in search of religious freedom according to their conscience. The early immigrants who organized our Republic were fleeing the religious wars that had wreaked havoc in the wake of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and so their unique settlement of religious differences was that our government would have no religion so that all citizens could have whatever religion they chose for themselves.
Most of those responsible for founding and shaping our Republic were Christians, but the government they established is deliberately non-denominational. In this sense, the United States of America is historically a nation of Christians but not a Christian nation in the sense that denominational states like Catholic Spain, Anglican England or Reformed Holland were.
The main challenge to this settlement since the mid-twentieth century has come from the secular political left which confuses the correct separation of church and state with the incorrect separation of religion from public life. The non-denominational state exists precisely so that citizens of all faiths can practice their religion publicly and make religion-based arguments in the public square about how we should all live together in peace.
I believe that the strong engagement of public religious arguments about how our life together should be shaped by law is both consistent with and required by a non-denominational government that respects the religious freedom of all citizens.
Reverend Amenti Sujai, Ph.D., associate professor of church history at Dickerson-Green Seminary at Allen University in Columbia, pastor of St. Matthew-Taylors United Methodist
1. The system of government of this nation was developed by limited and enlightened deists. Therefore, it was not founded as a Christian nation.
2. This diverse nation should not be a Christian nation. Rather, it should be a nation that follows Jesus’ Great Commandment of Love and other ethical and moral principles such as the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.
3. Moral principles that recognize and honor the worth of all beings and the entire earth could inform public policy. Government should not play any role that helps cultivate, promote, support or honor a culture of lies.