The United Kingdom May Be A Christian Country, But The United States Is Not

I’m guessing you’ve seen it already, but if not, the video above has been making the rounds on Facebook this week.

It’s an Easter message from British Prime Minister David Cameron in which he says some great stuff about the many wonderful things Christians in the UK are doing, while also calling for prayer for persecuted Christians around the world.

But what has gained the attention of Christians in the United States is this statement by Cameron at the :48 mark, “We should be proud to say that this is a Christian country.”

It’s red meat gold for American Christians convinced the United States is a Christian nation that’s lost its way under the leadership of our “secret Muslim” President.

But my fellow Americans, before you get too upset at the fact that Obama didn’t release a similar message declaring the United States a Christian country, please allow me to remind you of a few key details that are easy to forget while listening to Cameron’s eloquent and heart warming words.

Unlike the United States, England has an official state church: the Church of England. (In Scotland, another member of the UK, the official state church is the Church of Scotland.) As you might recall, the Church of England has been around since Henry VIII kicked Roman Catholicism out of the country when Pope Clement VII refused to grant him an annulment. Since 1534 the Church of England and thus Christianity (though obviously England was Christian when they were still Catholic) has been the official state religion. This is why Cameron can so boldly and truthfully state that the United Kingdom is a Christian country.

But let’s not forget that Cameron is a politician. Which means while he may very well believe what he’s saying, it’s also quite possible highly likely that his message is not quite the noble declaration some folks in the United States assume it is. That doesn’t mean he’s not a Christian, but it’s important to remember that like every politician – especially ones speaking on their party’s official YouTube page – there’s a pretty decent chance he’s pandering to a particular audience just like conservative politicians do in the United States with evangelicals.

Moreover, his remarks about funding the repairs of cathedrals and passing laws protecting prayer are both misleading to an American audience and, at least in the case of the former, flat out illegal in the United States. As we all know from history class, the First Amendment precludes the federal government from funding churches in the United States. But what’s easy to miss is what Cameron isn’t mentioning. Those cathedrals that the government is so graciously repairing are, by and large, tourist destinations that generate important tax revenue for the state. Think Westminster Abbey. It definitely needs to be preserved and there are still services that take place there, but it’s primarily a tourist destination. Which means the government is benefiting from repair work on cathedrals. The funding is not really a statement of faith.

Cameron’s words could also be misleading for those who have never visited the UK and/or are unaware of the fact that though officially Christian, in reality it is incredibly secular and the Christians he’s referring to who are actually doing wonderful things are sadly few and far between. While the United States – an officially secular country – sees about 40% of its citizens in church each week, in the United Kingdom – an officially Christian country – that figure dips to about 10%.

[Insert cliché here about being careful what you wish for.]  

But the single most important thing my fellow American Christians seem to forget in their zeal to post this video as quickly and often is possible is that we literally fought a war to not be like England.

Sure, it was a war sparked by taxes and ditching the king was definitely at the top of the agenda, but so was abandoning the establishment of religion. Yes, many of our founding fathers went to church and, yes, Christianity has been the dominant religion in our country since before we were even a country, but our founding document – the Constitution – makes it clear that, unlike England,not only we do not have an official religion or church, but the fact we were making up our rules from scratch and could have easily made Christianity the official religion of the United States by establishing a Church of America to rival the Church of England but chose not to clearly and definitively declares that we are not and have never had any desire to be an officially Christian nation.

So, despite chicken little reports of the death of Christianity in America, at least when we compare church involvement in our officially secular nation to the number of folks actually involved in church across the pond in an officially Christian nation, it seems like our founding fathers may have done us a favor by refusing to declare an official state religion.

But that’s a debate for another day.

What matters today is remembering the message we send to our non-Christian neighbors when we get rilled up about stuff like this and declare that America is a Christian nation or complain about Obama not releasing a message like David Cameron. And that message is clear: real Americans are Christians and if you’re not a Christian, you’re not welcome in America.

I know that may not be the conscious intention of everyone posting this video to Facebook, but intention does nothing to change the message our non-Christian neighbors are hearing, particularly in our current religious climate.

Because when the face of Christian activity in government today centers around trying to pass laws sanctioning religiously motivated discrimination, the message our non-Christian neighbors hear when we try to rally the “take back our country” troops by zealously posting Cameron’s Easter message has nothing to do with the grace and mercy towards the needy he so eloquently describes.

The message our non-Christian neighbors hear is: “if you’re not a Christian, you’re not welcome here.”