Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

John McCain: Theocrat?

Thanks to Bruce Prescott for this gem.  McCain claims that the U.S. Constitution establishes the USA as a “Christian nation.” Hello: The Constitution forbids any religious test for political office. And, as Bruce points out, the First Amendment explicitly says:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”  Now, I’m very aware of the attempts by fundamentalists to say that this just prevented the establishment of a national church or denomination, but that Christianity itself was firmly established.  That’s hogwash as numerous studies of the religious attitudes of the Founders have shown and also the last 50 years of Supreme Court rulings.

But, from the perspective of Christian theology, McCain’s error is even larger. There is NO SUCH THING as a Christian nation.  In the Great Commission (Matt. 28), the Risen Christ commands us to make disciples from among all nations.  In Revelation, the saints come from “every tribe and nation.” Nationalism of any sort is forbidden to Christians because our faith is universal. That is why I object to national flags in the sanctuaries of local churches.  ALL are welcome in God’s house on EQUAL basis and we worship the Lord of all history and nations, not a tribal god.  The path from this kind of “Christian nationalism” espoused by McCain (like Bush before him) to a Nazi-like worship of the nation itself is short. 

I don’t know if McCain is a true theocrat or simply will say anything to get elected–but I don’t want to find out, either.  U.S. citizens must insist that persons of all faiths and no particular faith are equal before the law of the land–no second class citizenship for Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, agnostics, etc.  And, true Christians must insist even more strongly that a “Christian nation” is a contradiction in terms and that there is no place for national chauvenism among the followers of the Lamb.


June 9, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Michael,

    As I listen to this, and I’ve heard him make these statements before, he demonstrates a real lack of sophistication when it comes both to US constitutional history and to the Christian faith. He has a Sunday School level faith — which is surprising because that’s about where most Americans are at.

    My sense is that McCain really doesn’t know what to do with religion. He finds it difficult to speak of faith directly but knows that a core of his base wants him to speak out religiously. On theological matters, Obama is much more sophisticated — but even he’s not a theologian!

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | June 9, 2008

  2. “I don’t know if McCain is a true theocrat or simply will say anything to get elected.”–This has to been one of the most disingenuous ignorant, idiot statements in the history of blogging. Right, pal. You really don’t know if McCain is a “true theocrat.” Yeah, right. this is just plain nutty.

    Comment by Jesse Rivers | June 10, 2008

  3. Yeah, well, McCain may be one-sided and unsophisticated, but so are the extreme separationists who act as if the government should have nothing to do with religion. George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all talked about God in public. Thomas Jefferson said we’re endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. Separationists can say, “Yeah, but that was the deist God.” It’s still a God, isn’t it? The likes of Barry Lynn would criticize the founding fathers if they were alive today.

    Comment by James Pate | June 10, 2008

  4. There are a lot of differences between talking about religion in the public sphere, which is everyone’s right as far as I can tell from reading the Constitution, to “establishment”, which in legal terms means (approximately) using the power and authority of the government to give preference to any particular religion. When a politician says “We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights” that’s a lot different from a politician saying “America is a Christian nation.” The problem isn’t with what is being said, but with what it might represent – that is, a person intent on using their authority to ‘establish’ their particular religious views one way or another.

    I think that McCain is clumsily trying to pander to the religious right when he says things like this, and yes, I think he demonstrates that he doesn’t really understand the Constitution – neither does the religious right most of the time when they talk about it, so they make good fairweather friends perhaps, but poor choices for government.

    Comment by Doug | June 11, 2008

  5. It’s helpful not to confuse “separation of church and state” with “separation of religion and politics.” Fundamentalists sometimes say “separation of church and state” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and literally, those words do not appear. However, the idea they represent clearly does. The founders wanted the state to be neutral toward religion because they wanted persons of all religious faiths (or no faith at all) to be equal under the law. Unlike modern fundamentalists, who have no idea what they are talking about, the founders actually witnessed colonial America’s experiments with state churches, and they were not impressed. “Separation of religion and politics” is another matter. It holds that religious thinking and values should not inform public policy. This is a pet theory of a minority of secularists, and it is bunk, too. Not only would such a separation be impossible to enforce short of thought control, but innumerable progressive movements such as abolition, women’s rights, and some peace movements came about as the result of religious Americans acting upon their convictions. Mixing church and state is always corrupting from a Christian standpoint — Tony Campolo has likened it to mixing ice cream and horse manure — but mixing religion and politics is good or bad depending on what’s being mixed.

    Comment by Anthony | June 11, 2008

  6. I don’t know, Doug. What’s the difference between public officials proclaiming there is a God, and the 10 Commandments being on display in a court house, or “Under God” being in the Pledge of Allegience? All of them promote some sort of religion.

    Comment by James Pate | June 11, 2008

  7. In one sense it is perfectly obvious that American was founded on Christian principles or even that it was established as a Christian nation. If you think this is completely crazy, then think how odd it would be to say that American was founded on Buddhist principles or was established as a Hindu nation. The latter would be absurd in a way that the former is not. McCain is stubbling around trying to articulate the simply fact that at the founding the culture was predominantly Christian. Even those who were Deists would be offended if they were labeled non-Christian. All this doesn’t make McCain a “theocrat.” That’s just silly.

    Comment by Jesse Rivers | June 11, 2008

  8. […] Levellers: McCain: Theocrat? […]

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  9. Excellent post Michael. I don’t know if he is a theocrat but he sure acts like he could become one – not that he would, but he could.

    Comment by steph | June 15, 2008

  10. Care to explain the STATE churches that remained established in the states after the writing of the Constitution for decades? Being against establishment was a federal issue solely. Extending it to the states would have been a radical position and would have wrecked the compromise. The nation was not Christian but it was broadly assumed to be supporting it. There was no secular ideal being established just a non-discrimnatory(wink-wink) broad Christian goverment. It was as Christian as it was racist, muddled on both counts but still clearly both. Going forward I think Christian nation/common culture rhetoric is a non-starter but nothing could be more obviously true of the nations past. I don’t know why secularists can’t just grant the obvious. Please spare pointing out that there were atheists, deists, and Jews involved. Again obvious but beside the point. Jefferson writings late in his life reflect a view of religious toleration where (roughly) “Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians all preach their sermons(peacefully) out of the same courthouse building.” Scandalous de facto establishment from everyones favorite secularist deist.

    Comment by david | June 17, 2008

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