Nothing, besides everything that is Donald Trump, has irked me more this election season than the religious rhetoric that many use to elevate their positions and candidates. Most frequently, I see this behavior from those with misguided notion that United States of America is a “Christian nation.”

Our government is not, and has not ever been Christian. A 1796 Treaty with Tripoli, drafted under George Washington and signed under John Adams, states explicitly that the United States was “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The phrase, “In God we trust,” was not added to our coins until the Civil War, and then was not added to paper money until the 1950s.

The Constitution, which many hold as quasi-scripture, does not mention Jesus, the Bible, or God even once. When it mentions religion, it uses only exclusionary terms.

This institutional secularism ensures that all belief systems have an equal standing before law. To position Christianity, or even theism, as deserving of special consideration is to return to the archaic tyrannical systems from which America originally rebelled.

When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he referred to a creator, but stated clearly that governments derive “their powers from the consent of the governed,” not by divine mandate. He didn’t write, “by authority of Jesus,” but by the “authority of the good people of these colonies.”

Of course, Jefferson was not a Christian in any traditional sense. He once took a razor blade to the Bible, removing every verse dealing with the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, or divinity. The religious zealots of his day tried blocking him from the presidency by branding him with the horrific label of atheist!

Most of the founding fathers were likewise non-Christians. Benjamin Franklin, “the first American,” was a self-proclaimed deist who wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches,” and “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”

George Washington, “the father of the country,” wrote, “Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause” (Letter to Edward Newenham, 1792).

Historian Barry Schwartz noted, “George Washington’s practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian… He repeatedly declined the church’s sacraments.  Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary…  Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative” (New York Press, 1987, pg. 174-175).

Perhaps no founding father was more outspoken about his non-Christianity than Thomas Paine, who wrote, “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel” (The Age of Reason).

Thomas Paine realized that the “Judeo-Christian values” to which so many presently pay lip service are not actually a good working model for national morality. After all, even slavery is a Judeo-Christian value! (Lev. 25:44, Eph. 6:5, 1 Pet. 2:8)

I personally have never met a single person who prefers to adopt ALL Judeo-Christian values. Instead, they want to pick and choose which ones apply. In that case, it seems reasonable for them to stop referring to their moral preferences as “Judeo-Christian values” and just call them “values.”

It is also worth mentioning that most of those values are shared by many cultures and belief systems. Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on morality. And the religious right certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on Christianity.

Despite all their fumblings with Bible verses and public expressions of devotion, the Republican presidential candidates appear to completely misrepresent what it means to be a Christian nation.

Tell me, how are we a Christian nation if we spend a majority of our national budget — a whopping $607 Billion — on our military (more than the next seven most militarized countries combined) when Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you?”

How are we a Christian nation if we spend only 3 percent of our budget on aiding the poor when Jesus instructed the rich man, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven?”

How are we a Christian nation if our love for firearms outweighs the rising cost of gun violence when Jesus said, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword?”

How are we a Christian nation if we continually support corporate greed when Jesus taught, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God?”

And last of all, how can we assert this country is at all directed by God when Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world?”

I can’t imagine Christ wanting anything to do with a country that refuses to alleviate its impoverished citizens or educate its youth under the pretense of fiscal sensibility while indiscriminately pouring its filthy lucre into perpetual warfare. I can’t see Jesus, the one who condemned the public piety of the Pharisees, endorsing any candidate who uses Bible verses and shout outs to God for political posturing.

I often see quotes from religious figures saying that we can’t redistribute wealth to help the poor because that is taking away the rich people’s right to choose to be charitable. Well you can’t fight for the rich’s right to choose “righteousness” and then inhibit that choice for homosexuals who want to marry or the would-be beneficiaries of legalized marijuana.

To be clear, I am not advocating for any specific socio-economic philosophies or policies; I am merely pointing out hypocrisy. Ignoring “the weightier matters” (Matt. 23:23) of Christianity, so many on the religious right feel that they can simply slap a Jesus fish on their political bandwagon and then attribute their entire platform to divine will.

I cringe every time I am reminded that Glenn Beck actually said, “Fall to your knees and pray to God to reveal to you what the hour is… This is your last call, America! Stand, stand with the man I believe was raised for this hour, Ted Cruz!”

Why would God care so much about the United States that he would raise up a man who pledged to make the sand glow in the dark by carpet bombing our self-made enemies into oblivion? Why would God care more about raising up Ted Cruz than — I don’t know — killing Hitler? Is America just better than all the other countries in the world?

I can’t thump a Bible and chant “USA! USA!” knowing that beneath the “city-on-a-hill” mentality is a brooding ethnocentrism that positions America as more worthy of God’s concern and intervention. God is not American. And America is not, and cannot be Christian. A Christian nation is simply un-American.

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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