It wasn’t that long ago that a U.S. judge told a high school valedictorian, “If you mention Jesus in your valedictory address, you will wish you had never been born” (quoted by Erwin Lutzer, Is God on America’s Side? 2008, p. 11).
This statement would have shocked earlier generations of Americans to their very core.
America is unique among all Christian nations of the world in its overtness in expressing its trust in God. The motto “In God We Trust” is printed on all its paper currency and stamped on its coinage. The motto was first embossed on America’s money with the issuing of a two-cent coin that bore the words in 1864. It was first printed on paper money in 1957.
Many Americans have long taken pride in the nation’s being founded on devotion to the God of the Bible. Yet many now claim America’s Christian heritage is a myth. This is false, as we will see. But we then must ask: Does the country still worship and trust in God, or has its reverence for and honoring of God declined with the passage of time? And if so, what does this mean for the nation’s future?
“Grounded upon Gospel principles”
The patriotism of America’s forefathers was undergirded by strong Christian foundations and pillars.
When England’s King Charles II granted a charter for the colony of Rhode Island to Roger Williams in July 1663, he wrote: “That they, pursuing with peace and loyal minds their sober, serious and religious intentions, of godly edifying themselves and one another in the holy Christian faith and worship . . . a most flourishing civil state may stand, and best be maintained . . . rightly grounded upon Gospel principles” (quoted by James Knowles, Memoir of Roger Williams: The Founder of the State of Rhode-Island, 1834, p. 420).
The early colonial settlers possessed deep Christian faith. “The first permanent settlement was the English colony at Jamestown, in 1607, in what is now Virginia. Similar to the other colonial charters, the First Charter of Virginia emphasized the Christian character of their purpose:
“ ‘We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their desires for the furtherance of so noble a work, which may, by the providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian religion to such people, as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God’ ” (Richard Lee, The American Patriot’s Bible, 2009, p. I-5).
The first northern colony was established in 1620 at Plymouth, in what is now Massachusetts. The settlers’ initial governing document, the Mayflower Compact, clearly attested to their faith in God.
It states: “In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, . . . Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and of one another; covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick . . .” (quoted by Rod Gragg, Forged in Faith: How Faith Shaped the Birth of the Nation 1607-1776, 2010,pp. 29-30).
Author Woodrow Kroll states: “The influence of the Bible and the Christian religion was very much in evidence in the New England colonies and in other colonies as well. The New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland colonies considered themselves to be ‘plantations of religion.’ Most of the charters mention the desire of the stockholders to convert the natives and to extend Christ’s dominion” (Taking Back the Good Book: How America Forgot the Bible and Why It Matters to You, 2007, p. 38).
“We have this day restored the Sovereign”
After a period of time the American colonies began to evolve toward a desire for independence and nationhood. This was due to a number of points of friction that developed between the colonies and their mother country, England. The Continental Congress met in 1774-1776 in Philadelphia to address these matters.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress was meeting to declare independence. At the same time, the commander-in-chief of the armies, George Washington, was gathered with his troops on Long Island, New York. During that time he issued an order to his troops that stated:
“The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army . . . Let us, then, rely on the goodness of our cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions” (quoted by John Marshall, The Life of George Washington, vol. 2, 1804, p. 424).
The Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776. It mentions “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” says that “all men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and declares that the representatives were “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of [their] intentions” and trusting “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
One of its signers, Samuel Adams, who was later eulogized as “the Father of the American Revolution,” expressed a common sentiment when he said after its signing: “We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone men ought to be obedient . . . From the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come” (Speech, Statehouse of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Aug. 1, 1776).
Another signer, Samuel Adams’ second cousin John Adams, who helped draft the document and would later become the second president of the United States, stated in a letter to his wife on the day Congress approved the Declaration: “The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity . . . I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God” (quoted by Bill Conry, Farewell to America, 2009, p. 19).
John Adams’ son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, later explained, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity” (quoted by William Federer, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations, 1994, p. 18). He also stated, “From the day of the Declaration … they [the American people] were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of The Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledge as the rules of their conduct” (quoted by Federer, p. 18).
Forging a new nation
The ragtag American armies engaged the superior British forces in combat for a period of six years. It seems likely that the colonial forces under George Washington achieved victory more due to God’s divine help than to their military might. The culminating point came when General Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, in the summer of 1781. The favor that the colonials had with God had stood them in good stead, and due largely to this they achieved a sort of independence.
But independence did not bring nationhood. Instead of being a united country, the people were divided into 13 squabbling colonies. They sought to solve their divisions by sending a gathering of 55 delegates to Philadelphia during May to September 1787 to seek unity by creating a constitution they could agree to and support.
As with previous endeavors and actions of the people, God was a part of the motivating picture. Of the 55 delegates, at least 50 professed Christianity. “They were all remarkably well read, and mostly from the same books . . . They were also careful students of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and even though some did not belong to any Christian denomination, the teachings of Jesus were held in universal respect and admiration” (Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, 2009, p. 32).
At times during the Constitutional Convention the debate raged fiercely, threatening to disrupt the proceedings and send them home with nothing to show for their efforts. One of the most famous of the delegates was Benjamin Franklin, who represented the colony of Pennsylvania. Earlier in his life he had accepted deism, the belief that God does not intervene in His creation. Yet in late June 1787, during the convention clashes, Franklin spoke up and stated:
“In this situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the father of lights to illuminate our understandings?
“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the divine protection! Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor” (quoted by Jon Meacham, American Gospel, 2006, pp. 88-89).
Franklin was clearly no longer a deist at this point as is often claimed, especially as he continued: “I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men! And if a sparrow cannot fall
to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?
“We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” (p. 89, emphasis added)
Through perseverance during continued debate, the convention succeeded. The delegates drew up a document, and the United States Constitution was adopted on Sept. 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention and ratified at later conventions in each state in the name of “The People.”
The U.S. Constitution created the three branches of America’s national government: a legislature, an executive branch led by the president, and a judicial branch including the Supreme Court.
The faith of America’s first president
In April 1789, George Washington—the man who even then was called “the Father of His Country”—was unanimously selected as the first president of the United States. What evidence do we have of Washington’s belief in God?
Ten years earlier when he was speaking to a gathering of chiefs of the Delaware tribe, he stated: “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are” (quoted by Peter Lillback, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, 2006, p. 18.)
At a later time, when Washington and the Continental Army were enduring many disappointments and setbacks, he stated: “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian” (ibid.).
Washington was a devoted and religious man. “We know that the lips of Washington spoke the name of Jesus Christ as he shared the comfort of the Gospel . . . Later in his life, he was very active in worship. The records show that he went to church on Sundays while he served in the office of the presidency. When he retired, he continued to
worship in the church” (p. 44).
A religious judiciary
Many recent rulings by American judges and courts tell a regrettable story of bias against God and the Christian religion. It has not always been this way. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, was devoutly Christian, as witnessed by his belief in the spiritual resurrection from the dead to eternal life.
“In May of 1802 Mrs. Jay began to fail rapidly; on the twenty-eighth, with her husband and children at her bedside, she died. In that tragic hour Jay remained calm. When he saw that death had claimed her he at once led his children into the adjoining room, took up the family Bible and turned to the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians.
“His eyes glistened but his voice was firm: ‘. . . Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? . . . We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, . . . and the dead shall be raised incorruptible’ ” (Frank Monaghan, John Jay: Defender of Liberty Against Kings and Peoples, 1935, p. 428).
On another occasion Jay stated, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers” (quoted by Michael Williams, Silenced in the Schoolhouse: How Biblical Illiteracy in Our Schools is Destroying America, 2008,p. 47).
Early America was overwhelmingly Christian
Author Peter Lillback notes that early America was overwhelmingly Christian: “At the beginning of the American Revolution, 98.4% of the Americans claimed to be Protestant; 1.4% claimed to be Roman Catholic —thus, 99.8% were professing Christians. This certainly corroborates Benjamin Franklin’s telling observation published in 1794 on the faith of his contemporary fellow Americans in the midst of Washington’s presidency:
“’. . . Serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated, but respected and practiced. Atheism is unknown there . . . so that persons may live to a great age in that country without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an atheist or an infidel’ ” (p. 29).
Americans and American leaders continued for generations to be devoted to God.
In 1831, the notable French historian Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and made a profound observation about the source of America’s strength and character. He concluded that it was attributed to America’s commitment to religion—and specifically to Christianity:
“It was religion that gave birth to the English colonies in America. One must never forget that. In the United States religion is mingled with all the national customs and all those feelings which the word fatherland evokes. For that reason it has peculiar power . . .
“Christianity has kept a strong hold over the minds of Americans, and—this is the point I wish to emphasize—its power is not just that of a philosophy which has been examined and accepted, but that of a religion believed in without discussion . . . Christianity itself is an established and irresistible fact which no one seeks to attack” (Democracy in America, translated by George Lawrence, 1969, p. 432).
The decline of Christianity
Yet America has drastically changed. Today, church attendance and Christianity are declining in the nation. One 2009 poll reported that 95 percent of Christian evangelicals ages 20 to 29 had attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years. However, only 55 percent of them attended church regularly during high school, and only 11 percent of them were still regularly attending church when in college.
The future of a nation lies in the strength of its youth. With young Americans deserting Christianity and church attendance in America in droves, the future does not look bright.
America is a nation that sometimes makes a public show of honoring God. During the national emergency brought on by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, church attendance increased.
“When the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened, ‘God bless America’ signs were everywhere, even on marquees on porn shops. Everyone thought that surely God could be trusted to come to our side in this war against terror . . . [Some thought:] Think of the good America has done around the world! Of course God is on our side, and if He isn’t, He ought to be!” (Lutzer, pp. 11-12).
But it didn’t last long. “Once our nation felt secure again, God was safely tucked away, church attendance declined . . . God is less welcome now in the affairs of our public life than He was before 9/11. [Consider the sad incident of] a girl who was wearing a chastity bracelet signifying her intention to be a virgin until she marries, but it was banned from the school because it was deemed religious . . . The role of religion, we are told, is to bless the soul, but not to interfere with our lifestyle or public policy” (p. 12).
The fate of nations that desert God
What happens to nations God has blessed that desert Him? The record indicates that they eventually decline, ultimately collapse and are relegated to the trash heap of history.
In the elementary beginnings of what would eventually become part of the United States, John Winthrop (1587-1649), who served 12 terms as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, stated: “We must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world” (quoted in Our Nation’s Archive: The History of the United States in Documents, Eric Bruun and Jay Crosby, editors, 1999, p. 47).
Is America a “city upon a hill,” or are we a shameful example to the rest of the world’s nations? When America looked to God and the Bible for basic principles on which she based her laws and lifestyle, she shone brightly as a beacon in the dark. But we no longer do. We are a dreadful example and, unless we soon change our ways, we shall become “a byword through the world”!
The United States is descended from the biblical nation of Israel (you can see this for yourself in our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy).Its blessings of freedom and material prosperity are gifts from God. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 detail the wealth of blessings God showered on the nation and also warn of the dreadful curses God says He will allow if we fail to remain faithful in obedience to His commandments.
America is gradually losing its international prominence. Its problems are growing deeper and larger by the day.
What will come next? The Bible foretells that many curses will befall the United States if we continue on our current path. When John Winthrop warned so long ago about dealing falsely with God and the people becoming “a byword,” he lifted a quote from Deuteronomy 28 (verse 37). Again, this chapter in the Bible warns of the loss of national blessings (now evident in many areas), as well as growing national turmoil and eventual defeat by enemies.
Is it possible for the world’s leading superpower to collapse? We should take note not only of biblical warnings but those of secular “prophets” too. Author and Harvard University history professor Niall Ferguson recently wrote an article titled, “When the American Empire Goes, It Is Likely to Go Quickly” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010). Note that the first word here is not “if” but “when”!
Great nations and empires of the past have fallen into the dustbin of history. An ancient example is the mighty Roman Empire; a modern example is the British Empire. “Once a maritime superpower and ruler of half the world, Britain now occupies an isolated position as an economically fragile island” (Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, 1994, back cover).
America is in serious decline now. And let us all take heed: It will not only continue to decline but will eventually collapse unless it turns to God in genuine repentance.