I dislike predictions about when the world will end. Since the dawn of Christianity, people have been claiming Christ will return in a few years, or the church is about to enter a time of great persecution and suffering. Since many of these people have been proven wrong, I offer the following prediction with the greatest trepidation and humility:
The church’s preferential treatment in America is coming to an end.
The latest indication that this prediction is coming true came in the form of a news story about the Supreme Court’s ruling against a chapter of a college group, the Christian Legal Society (You can read a CNN article about it here or read a previous post about it here.) The society chapter had sued UC Hastings College of the Law because the school denied the group official recognition. The school withheld recognition because CLS forbade practicing homosexuals from holding leadership positions within the group.
If you read the comments attached to the CNN article, you will find one particularly insightful note from Bloke: “It’s amazing that on some other sites people are saying this requires Christian groups to accept all. It does no such thing. It simply makes it clear that if your University has a non-discrimination policy in effect to qualify for funds you either agree to it or you get no funds.”
Bloke’s comment points toward an expectation many Christians in America have: we expect the government to take our side. For so many years, America was predominantly Christian, so our faith got special treatment. Courts had people swear on Bibles, politicians endorsed Christian morals (sometimes out of true conviction, sometimes for votes), and schools even encouraged a Godly piety. Even as recently as the late 1990s and early into 2000, my high school had a picture of Christ on the cross hanging in a hallway (It may still be there fore all I know.) No other religions were represented in the school’s decor.
Should we, however, expect this treatment? The arguments about the intent of the founding fathers is irrelevant, because the work they left to us states clearly that the government shall not endorse any religion. Nowhere does the Constitution require our leaders to consult a Bible, pray for guidance, or even acknowledge the existence of God. Simply put, we were not founded with the requirement to be a Christian nation, but a democratic one.
And right now, democratic principles are not in our favor. A recent Gallup poll found that 43.1 percent of Americans claimed they attended church about once a week (You can see a breakdown of the poll here.). This number is actually an increase from 2009’s 42.8 percent, but is still far from a voting majority. Even if this number is true, there is no guarantee that all of these church-goers will vote or agree on the issues.
This illusion that we are a Christian nation causes some of the faithful to misdirect their energy. Too much time and energy is spent trying to make us look like a Christian nation, to regain the preferential treatment we formerly enjoyed. Groups have attempted to force the government to allow us to deliver Christian prayers at government functions, to use the word “God,” and I am sure some other equally superfluous issues. Superfluous because even if the Christians won these fights, nothing would change. If the government uses “God” in all of its documents, it will not compel anyone to believe in a god, let alone the God. If Christians cannot in good conscience deliver a prayer without mentioning Christ at a government function, and the government objects, perhaps we should excuse ourselves.
Instead of pursuing the privilege, we need to acknowledge our equal, but democratically inferior, status. If we think of this as a non-Christian nation, and us as merely residents required to care for those outside God’s kingdom, then perhaps our efforts will be focused less on the trappings of government sponsorship and more toward taking over the government one voter at a time. When the people serve God, then we won’t need any laws about our faith.