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Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

A Historical Introduction

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Westminster John Knox Press
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John Fea offers a thoroughly-researched, even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title's question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. "We live in a sound-bite culture that makes it difficult to have any sustained dialogue on these historical issues," Fea writes in his preface. "It is easy for those who argue that America is a Christian nation (and those who do not) to appear on radio or television programs, quote from one of the founders or one of the nation's founding documents, and sway people to their positions. These kinds of arguments, which can often be contentious, do nothing to help us unravel a very complicated historical puzzle about the relationship between Christianity and America's founding."

Fea also examines the religious beliefs of several of the Founders—particularly George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—assessing what they thought about the role of Christian faith in national life. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that this book occupies a middle ground, noting the good points and the less-nuanced arguments of both sides and leading us always back to the primary sources that our shared American history comprises.

John Fea is Associate Professorof American History andChair of the History Departmentat Messiah College inGrantham, Pennsylvania.

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"A conscientious historian responds to the question 'Was America founded as a Christian nation?' with a scrupulous presentation of evidence that may surprise people on both sides of this hot topic."
—Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America

"Fea's style, clean and simple, persuades by history, not histrionics."
Publishers Weekly

"A useful text for anyone seeking a balanced historical overview of a thorny question."
Library Journal

"Very few writers can take a complex subject—over two hundred years of history with bewildering, bemoaning, and belligerent claims by Americans about whether this nation is Christian or not—hold it up for inspection, and make its utter complexity clear; but John Fea accomplishes this and more. Informed, judicious, insightful, and genuinely delightful."
—Scot McKnight, North Park University; author of The Jesus Creed

"This is a wonderful book—fascinating, timely, carefully researched, clearly written, and deeply helpful. It examines the Christian nation idea as expressed by the founders and also as it has shaped the country ever since (and still does). As a scholar, Professor Fea leaves no doubt of his disdain for those who 'cherry pick' the historical record to support contemporary arguments. Rather, he presents such a balanced view of the hard facts that neither the Christian nation advocates nor their critics can feel totally vindicated."
—Bob Abernethy, executive editor and host of PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly; coeditor of The Life of Meaning

"With careful research and judicious scholarship, John Fea has produced a remarkably useful guide for navigating the arguments about America's 'Christian' origins. His reluctance to dictate conclusions is a measure of his evenhandedness."
—Randall Balmer, Barnard College; author of God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush

"This is a book for readers who want a credible account of how religion affected the settlement and founding of the United States. It brings out the indisputable importance of religion without claiming more than sound historical scholarship can support. Its most original feature is the fascinating history of the long campaign to define the United States as a Christian nation."
—Richard Bushman, emeritus, Columbia University; author of From Puritan to Yankee and The Refinement of America

"This book is required reading for everyone interested in the question of America's Christian origins—especially for those who think they already have the answer. If I could recommend but one source on the Christian America thesis, this would be it."
—Douglas A. Sweeney, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; author of The American Evangelical Story

"This is a timely book that will help make sense of one of the most important divides in American politics. John Fea does more than simply point out the shortcomings of arguments on either side of the debate over Christian America. He offers a clear and balanced reinterpretation of how this debate has shaped American culture and society for more than two hundred years."
—John Wigger, University of Missouri; author of American Saint and Taking Heaven by Storm

"John Fea's learned and accessible study documents the surprisingly diverse views of the founders on religion and tells the fascinating story of how Americans have remembered them in later generations."
—Beth Barton Schweiger, University of Arkansas; coeditor of Religion in the American South

"Fea avoids the polarizing polemics of contemporary political debate over the religious beliefs of the founders and instead focuses on the revolutionary generation's spirituality and the ways in which Christian faith shaped understanding during that momentous upheaval. A worthwhile read for scholars as well as the general public."
—Brendan McConville, Boston University; author of The King's Three Faces

"With clarity, wisdom, and precision, John Fea probes the question posed in the title of this book. It is a complex question, yielding complex responses that are not amenable to a sound-bite culture."
—Dennis P. Hollinger, President, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"John Fea has produced a carefully balanced and thought-provoking addition to the long-running debate about the role of religion in America's founding. It is particularly strong in its treatment of the anti-Catholicism of some of the founders."
—Ira Stoll, author of Samuel Adams: A Life

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