Trump Embraces the Myth of a Christian Nation

In several recent campaign speeches, Donald Trump has made claims to the effect that if he’s elected he’ll make the U.S.

Trump doesn’t specify which god he intends for us all to be under, but one of the places he made these remarks was at the Value Voters Summit, a conservative political event sponsored by a number of Christian organizations, and he’s been meeting with evangelical Christian leaders lately, so it seems that, if he becomes president, he means for the U.S. to become a Christian nation.

The idea that the U.S. is “one nation under god,” as the current pledge of allegiance states, and that that god is the Christian one was not invented by Trump. It’s part of a cultural narrative that’s widely accepted and promoted by a range of people. The GOP platform lists “Religious Liberty” as one of their agenda items and under that item states “We support the public display of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage.…” Of course the various Jewish and Christian faiths have a long history in the U.S., but the idea that America is, or ever was, a Christian nation, or even a Judeo-Christian nation (if that is even possible) or a nation of any particular religion is simply not an accurate reflection of the country.

The myth of the U.S. as a Christian nation completely ignores the millions of Americans who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, practice other religions, or are agnostics or atheists. This idea also departs from the reality of our history. People have lived in what is now America since thousands of years before Christ existed and many of the religions that have been practiced for centuries in the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories, have many gods. Beyond ignoring the historical significance and current existence of non-Christians in the U.S., the Christian-nation agenda also contradicts the intent of the architects of the Unites States as a nation.

The founding fathers were very deliberate in their separation of church and state and didn’t promote anything even remotely like Trump’s “one god” promise. Thomas Jefferson was a deist who believed in the teachings of Christ, but was so critical of the Bible that he literally cut out sections and made his own version, known as the Jefferson Bible. Another founding father, George Washington, was probably a more traditional Christian in his own beliefs but clearly did not expect that all the citizens of the new country share them. After visiting the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island Washington wrote them a letter, which states in part:

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

The references to God that we now have on our money and in our pledge of allegiance were not the work of the founding fathers. The first use of the word God on U.S. money was on coins minted in 1864 and was, according to the Treasury, “largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War.” The pledge of allegiance was written in 1892 but God didn’t show up in it or on our paper money until the 1950s, as part of the “red scare.” This unfortunate time in our nation’s history, when Americans were being persecuted by their government, if they were suspected of believing what those in power had deemed wrong or dangerous, is also when our national motto was changed from the original “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one) to “In God We Trust”.

The “one god” promise Trump is currently making seems intended to woo Christian voters and it’s the logical extension of what many others, especially in the Republican party, have been saying for some time. Trump may not even be aware that he’s currently pushing a version of America that is more like McCarthy’s ideal than what the founding fathers were trying to create. But one of the lessons of McCarthyism is that this type of rhetoric seems harmless, until it isn’t. In order to implement what Trump is promising, the U.S. would have to do the opposite of what Washington promised in his letter; it would have to sanction bigotry and assist persecution.

Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in all types of policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm.