Political mythology provides the opportunity to construct a historical genealogy that both frames the overall public discourse and the mystical, if not spiritual, justification for maintaining oppressive and repressive policies.
Take for example the general belief that the Founding Fathers were followers of Jesus, purposely starting a Christian nation.
Holding on to this “truth” allows those on the Religious Right to advocate for public policies that are the antithesis to the fundamental American rhetoric of liberty and freedom.
Ignore for the moment that most of the writings and speeches of the Founding Fathers point to the fact that many, if not most, were deists – a philosophical ideology containing a veneer of Christian jargon.
It would be difficult to define men like Washington, Franklin or Jefferson as Christians in the present-day evangelical usage of that term.
The sprinkling of Christian buzzwords in their pronouncements is insufficient to maintain the proposition that the Founding Fathers were disciples and believers in the Jesus of the resurrection.
Nevertheless, contrary to the overwhelming evidence, the myth is created that they were “born-again” Christians as the term has come to be known in the 20th century.
But my purpose here is not to debunk their faith based on what they said or wrote. I have no doubt that regardless of how many footnotes I use, or how extensive my documentation may be, those who cling to the myth of a Judeo-Christian foundation for this country would simply dismiss my observations as wrong. Hence, I plan to use a different approach.
If a tree is indeed known by its fruits, then their actions within the political sphere should clearly point to their faith commitment or their lack of faith.
What we find is that many, if not most, of the Founding Fathers provided more telling proof concerning their rejection of the gospel message of Jesus Christ than its acceptance.
Allow me to provide two examples. The first entails genocidal practices toward the original inhabitants of the land; the second entails the brutal and inhumane institution of slavery.
All the Founding Fathers were engaging in policies that brought death to indigenous people. In fact, one of the main motives for the Revolutionary War – a motive seldom appearing in our history textbooks – was the eradication of British policies that kept the original colonies east of the Appalachians.
The Revolutionary War was as much a war for the right to move westward to acquire another people’s land as it was for the right of self-determination.
Our Founding Fathers advocated and encouraged the settlement of the so-called wilderness. That venture could only be accomplished with the genocide of those who were presently living on the land. If you wanted land, you first had to get rid of its inhabitants.
The Founding Fathers may be great men. Yet the simple truth is that heaven is not for those who unrepentantly profited and participated in the act of genocide.
The second fruit that reveals the nature of the Founding Fathers’ tree was slavery.
One simply cannot reconcile the satanic institution of slavery with the Christian faith. To do so only makes a mockery of Jesus’ mission.
Regardless of how many Bible verses are quoted by these Founding Fathers, the repugnant practice of trading in human flesh stands as testament to their rejection of the basic Gospel message.
Again, there is no one in heaven who unrepentantly profited and participated in the institution of slavery.
Why am I so intent on debunking the mythology that the United States was founded as a Christian nation?
1. To be faithful to scholarship.
2. To be faithful to the message of Jesus Christ, opposing any societal narrative that deludes the Gospel’s radical call for liberation.
3. To be faithful to the cause of justice, refusing to sweep under the carpet any “inconvenient” past that might prove embarrassing.
4. To struggle against the danger of making a fictitious history the dominating storyline.
Even if we ignore the historical account and insist that the Founding Fathers were mostly Christians, that does not mean that our present political structures and systems should be Christian.
If we are a nation that strives toward total inclusion, the exclusive call for returning to some mystical past is both dangerous and oppressive.
I am a Christian by choice. For me to be faithful to my faith, I must fight for the rights of Hindus, Muslims, agnostics, Santéros/as, atheists, Buddhists, and yes, even those who erroneously preach the end of the world, to participate in and be part of the political structures.
The text on which we rely to organize our political process is the United States Constitution, a flawed and non-divine document, not the Bible.
To rely on the Bible as the basis for governance is to flirt with theocracy, an anti-democratic and historically oppressive political system.
My commitment to an ecumenical inclusion of all people of faith (or lack thereof) is not based on me sharing their views or beliefs. Freedom of religion and conscience must reign supremely.
Any insistence that we were founded as a Christian nation and thus must return to those roots threatens our democratic ideals.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.