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Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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May 3rd, 2010

Is America a Christian Nation?

 
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You know, when I decided to become a priest, there was one big thing I was really struggling with… one thing that I was really going to miss.  Because in my past life, there was something that I really liked to do… and when I looked at the job description of a priest, I realized that my days of doing this one thing were over.

Watching Meet The Press on Sunday mornings.

Seriously… there was nothing better than waking up late on a Sunday morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich from Dunkin Donuts, and sitting down to watch the weekly political boxing match. And of course, I was usually far from being a passive watcher of the program.  I have been known to hold my fair share of political opinions from time to time (ahem)… and when someone on the screen would say something that I disagreed with, I would never hesitate to express those opinions to the television in a manner so that the people inside the television set could hear me.  Probably in the same way most of the Texas fans in this room would scream at the television when Oklahoma scores a touchdown.

Most, if not all of us, have our political allegiances.  Maybe we don’t all scream at television sets like I would do, but we all have them.  And I would be willing to bet that some of our opinions, our party affiliations, our priorities differ wildly from the person sitting next to us.  But if we are indeed coming from all of these different perspectives, the question could legitimately be asked, “What unites us as Catholics?  Shouldn’t we all agree on how to address the issues of our day such as abortion, immigration, and poverty?”

To be sure, these issues are complicated.  But it is actually a great testament to the diversity of our Catholic faith that we do come from different perspectives.  Because it means that we Catholics can have legitimate discussions on such important issues as border security.  We can have legitimate discussions on health care policy.  How best to reduce abortions.  We can agree and disagree on the role of government in our lives, the role of private industry in our lives, and how much we should be taxed.

The various opinions we hold do not make any one of us a better or a worse Catholic because we may favor one political party over another, because we may think a certain economic system works better, or because we either support (or don’t support) particular government policies.  That is because in the final analysis all of these things are opinions—these ideologies—are nothing more than simple MEANS to a larger purpose.

But while we are allowed to disagree on the MEANS as Catholics, we must all be united in the END these ideologies point to.  The END that we must all agree on as Catholics is the command we hear in the Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  While we can legitimately disagree on the ways in which we can shape a world in which love of neighbor rules the day, we have the constant responsibility to challenge ourselves, our actions, and our opinions to make sure that our “means” are pointing to this larger “end.”

On Facebook the other day, I noticed that someone posed the question if America should be considered a Christian nation.  I have to confess that I am uncomfortable with the way that question is phrased; I have too many Jewish, Buddhist, and agnostic friends who are as much a part of our country as anybody else.  But I do believe that it is undeniable that Christianity has had—and will continue to have—an enormous influence over American life and we should be grateful for that.  But because we have such enormous influence over our country as Christians, we need to take responsibility for how we direct that influence.

If we are going to start checking citizenship based on the color of ones skin, then we are not being influenced by Christianity.  If we are going to welcome people solely based on the amount of money they have in their wallets, then we are not being influenced by Christianity.  And if we are influenced by commentators who tell us to leave churches that express any sense of social concern because it conflicts with their own personal agenda, then we are most certainly NOT being influenced by Christianity.

Despite what some commentators say, we do not minimize Catholic Social Teaching just because it has the word “social” in it… Catholic Social Teaching IS Catholic Teaching. The command to “love one another as Jesus loves us” is the foundation of our Catholic Social Teaching. As Benedict 16 said in his latest encyclical Charity In Truth, “Love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”

But it is hard… it’s hard because the issues of immigration, poverty, and abortion are complex.  It’s hard because it may at times require personal sacrifice in order to love and support those who are falling victim to these issues.  It’s hard because love is hard. If we need any reminder of that, all we need to do is look at today’s Gospel… because just before Jesus tells us to love one another, Judas walks out the door to betray him and have him killed.

But it is also telling this event is also happening at the end of the Last Supper…. Probably because on some level Jesus knew that we might need some extra help in order to live our lives more fully as Christians.  Because we all need help in challenging ourselves to make sure that we are truly loving one another… both communally as well as individually.

So let’s all keep that in mind if we ever find ourselves questioning—like I sometimes would—whether to come to Church on Sunday morning or to stay in and watch Meet The Press.  After all, we can’t download the Eucharist later in the day off of iTunes.


This post focuses on the Gospel reading that can be found here.

 
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The Author : Fr. Tom Gibbons
Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • William Grogan

    “Christian nation” raises the hairs on the back of my neck a bit. Lately the word Christian has become a euphemism for religious right, with all the baggage that goes with it, including condemnation of all illegal immigrants, gays, pro choice people, liberals, humanists, and on and on. Just read one of the blogs here, protesting the passage of healthcare as somehow anti christian. As if a sincere effort to curb healthcare costs and cover millions of previously uninsured people is anti christian just because it goes against the will of the people. Sometimes the right choice is the least popular. And if this is indeed a “Christian nation,” we have much to answer for in our anti christian behavior, much of which has already been articulated in previous posts.

  • craig

    It is a myth to think that this nation was founded as a Christian nation. Most founders believed in God but many rejected Christianity and the Bible. Some saw good values in the Bible but did not follow Christian Theology. The whole democracy movement was influenced by Masonry which is not Christian at all. This is in stark contradiction to religious hierarchy and power system. No wonder the Vatican as always been suspicious of democratic movements and has supported dictatorships around the world.

  • norris hall

    The only thing wrong with Christian principles is that most Christians have stopped believing in them.
    Oh, they want the ten commandments to be displayed prominently and prayer in school and Bible verses on our building and the word “In God we trust” on our coins. But they have long since abandoned the actual teachings of Christ.
    How many “Christians” are for kicking out some hard working illegal immigrant who is living in a shack trying to earn money to feed his poor family back home?
    Many Christains say “tough luck” when people who are sick and can’t afford healthcare can’t afford to see a doctor.
    How many Christians accuse the poor of just being welfare freeloaders…to lazy to work?

    Christ said that the second greatest commandment was “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
    And “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.’”

    So it really doesn’t do any good to call this country a Christian nation founded by Christian principles if we are not going to follow Christ’s teachings.

    Christ expects a lot more from us than to to put some words on a coin or mention God’s name in the pledge of allegiance or put the ten commandments in a public place. Those are just actions to make many people think they are following Christ’s teachings.

    Deeds not words. Actions not talk

  • Corey Harned

    Hello Tom. Great article! I belong to an organization that is focused on Catholic teaching. Please take a moment and visit our website at http://www.kepharocks.org we are bringing the REAL MEN back! We also have an awesome video one of our members made during last months (April 2010) Chastity retreat. Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56F4N_H9PDI
    God Bless Brothewr.

  • Dean Garnell

    I am always puzzled when I read statements that this is a Christian Nation that was founded by Christians on Christian principles. In reading biographies of our “Founding Fathers” it is quite clear that not all of them were Christian, in fact more than a few were Deists and were actually looking towards more humanistic ideals in shaping this country. I also wonder where this early “Christian Nation” practiced Christian principles. This country was founded upon violence, bloodshed and theft. I think that Native Americans would disagree with the evaluation that this country was founded on Christian principles. All the Native Americans received was systematic genocide and pillage of their people and lands. And let’s not forget the un-Christian practice of slavery. I am a Christian and I have never seen where this country, that I love by the way, has once practiced “Do unto others..” or “turn the other cheek…” or “Thou shall not kill.” I believe that it is a deliberately created myth that this is a Christian nation.

  • Nancy Merrill

    I fear that the leaders of this country do not ascribe to any religion (Christian or otherwise) that values morals and the rights of others. Our political leaders are all over the press for comitting adultery (and coveting their neighbor’s wives), they permit murder in the form of abortion, and they have stolen the trust from American’s by passing a health care bill that many Americans protested. If we expect the citizens to act a certain way and respect one another, our leaders need to set an apropriat moral example.

  • Nancy Merrill

    I fear that the leaders of this country do not ascribe to any religion (Christian or otherwise) that values morals and the rights of others. Our political leaders are all over the press for comitting adultery (and coveting their neighbor’s wives), they permit murder in the form of abortion, and they have stolen the trust from American’s by passing a health care bill that many Americans protested. If we expect the citizens to act a certain way and respect one another, our leaders need to set an apropriat moral example.

  • Patrick G Novecosky

    Thanks for this analysis, Tom. Two points to keep in mind: America was founded by Christians, and it was founded on Christian values principles.That doesn’t mean that every American is Christian or should be. Secondly, as you point out, Catholic social teaching is extraordinarily important. The preferential option for the poor is rooted in Christ’s own ministry. No one has done more (or continues to do more) for the poor than Christians. However, the right to life is paramount and always has been. Without the right to live, a child has no chance of ever needing any kind of social assistance … or of giving it.

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