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Is America a Christian country? and other Lenten questions

Last Sunday (February 14), the New York Times magazine had a feature article regarding a brewing curriculum controversy in Texas. It seems that there are some members of the state board of education who want Texas textbooks to reflect their conviction that America has been, and continues to be, a Christian country.

"So there" , I could imagine these ardent advocates of the Christian witness saying as I read the article. "We're Christian. Always have been. We are a God given and Christian driven country. It is our destiny."

"So what?", I found myself muttering rather irreverently under my breath as I finished the article. What does it mean to say America is a Christian country? The debate felt like some theological contest -- and if there were to be enough political muscle to pull this off, I had the sense that many will feel that the Christians have won. Against whom? If Christians are the winners, who are the losers? Will they need to be Christian to be American? What defines a Christian?

"So what?" I have continued to ask myself for the past several days and on into this first week of Lent. I have found guidance -- and challenge, from the Gospel of Mark. In the eighth chapter, Jesus asks his disciples, "who do people say that I am?" (8:27) And they tell him what they have been hearing: some think he is John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and still others say one of the prophets. Jesus is not so much interested in what others are saying; he wants to know what the disciples believe: "But who do you say that I am?" (8:29)

I love to avoid that question. Most of us do. We avoid it by thinking that Jesus is asking the question of Peter and James and John -- and not us. We avoid it by wondering how other people can say they are Christian if they act the way they do. We avoid it by worrying over whether or not America is a Christian country -- and not pondering who Jesus is for you or me.

"But who do you say that Jesus is?" is one of the fundamental questions of faith. It is not a question that is easily answered, and it is not a question that we answer just once.

It is a question for this season. A daily question. I would suggest that whatever you take on this Lent -- or whatever you give up; that it be done with the intention of bringing you to a greater appreciation of the challenge of Jesus' question; and a discovery of the deep desire that both you and the living Christ have to be in relationship with each other.


Who do I say Jesus is? My response is the same one I wrote down at the Lenten program in my parish last night when asked to complete the statement God is my....and I wrote best friend as I thought about being pushed into right actions, prevented from making wrong choices, urged on to be useful, encouraged to love and care for others, forgiven when I slip up.

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