Monday, December 04, 2006

Facts are facts?

The other day I was flipping across the radio channels, listening to anything worthwhile (which means passing over all sports stations). I landed on Christian talk radio. I do not listen to Christian talk radio very often. But I listen in from time to time. Today I happened across the program, "Truths that Transform". This is Dr. D. James Kennedy's program. He was promoted his new book dealing with "What if America were a Christian Nation?"

What sparked my interest in this program is that they were mentioning the historical faith heritage of the U.S. My degree is in history. I have a personal love of history. I believe that history is critical to understanding and living the present as well as planning for the future.

Dr. Kennedy made a comment that really made me stop and think. Since I was driving, I couldn't actually stop. And I couldn't really think too hard. But there was a "fact" thrown out that really gave me reason to ponder. Dr. Kennedy states that in 1776, the year of the beginning of our birth as a nation, 99.8% of people in America were professing Christians. Statistical data estimates that there were 2.5 million people in America at that time. So, of all the people in America in 1776, only 250,000 were not professing Christian.

Think about that for a minute. I'll wait.

Does there seem to be a problem with these facts to anyone else?

I know that conservative religious writers are really making a lot of the founding of America as a Christian nation. But I believe that we are seeing a rewriting of history to make that argument. These facts on population are one glaring example of such rewriting. I make this statement based on the following arguments.

First, this obviously removes Native Americans from the statistics. We know for a fact that Christian missions had not fully influenced the native tribes by the 1800's. They were also, most likely, not counted in the population estimates.

Second, as I read American religious history, the ministers who worked hard with the people on the American frontier recorded in journals the hard work to bring the message of faith to a seemingly faithless frontier people. Francis Asbury is a great example. Here was a man who rode from the New England colonies down to Georgia. Many times. His journal speaks of the rowdy and resistant people for whom church was nowhere near nor dear to them.

In truth, 1776 and the founding of America resembles the nation we now live in and the time in which we reside. People may give lip service to faith. But lives don't bear out the truth of those statements. Some statistics say that 60%-80% of Americans consider themselves Christian. But statistics of attendance is pushing 30%-40%.

A lot of what Dr. Kennedy says rests on what it means to "profess" that you are a Christian. Is it just a title that you add to your name and identity? Is it holding your membership at some church where you may or may not attend? Is it living out a certain set of prescribed deeds or holding a certain set of beliefs? To profess that you are a Christian should mean more than any of these.

To profess to be a Christian should mean that we are making a resolved statement regarding how we live our lives and view the world. For the Christians of the first, second, and part of the third centuries, to profess to be a Christian was to risk losing your life. It was a death sentence at times to make that claim. Especially in certain types of company.

But it was also about living a transformed life. If you professed that you were a Christian it signified that your life was radically altered in some way. You had experienced a transformation of character and nature. Your life was not like that of non-professing Christians.

Here is where fact meets reality. Not all people who profess to be Christian today are in fact Christian. They may accept certain beliefs that are Christian and feel comfortable identified that way. They may have their membership in a church, but they may not necessarily attend it or any other church. (Some pastor friends classify these names on the membership rolls as FBPO - for burial purposes only.) Some who profess to be Christian may even live out some form of religious life but there is no deep spiritual life behind what they do.

The test is this: are you willing to die for saying you are a follower of Christ? If you can say yes, then profess it loudly. That is who you are.
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