To be sure, our culture has changed so it is no longer necessary for those climbers wishing to make it in high society to pay lip service to religion. We still expect it from political leaders, but on the whole we prefer these days that people practice (or not) according to their actual beliefs. If you're an atheist, better to just say you're an atheist than to pretend you're a Presbyterian.
But that also means it is no longer possible to maintain the fiction that the United States is a Christian nation. That doesn't stop some conservatives from trying - or at least trying to maintain the fiction that it was at one point and that all will be well if we can only get back to that golden time. In fact, at the Protestant chapel service I attended at Annapolis a couple weeks ago, an older gentleman in giving a Bible League award to a midshipman, tried yet again to make that claim. He mentioned that after Washington was inaugurated, the whole group - president, vice president, congress, and the rest - all trooped off to a church to pray and we need Christian leaders to do that today.
Among those trooping off to pray, how many really believed? How many were what we now call "Deists" or agnostic or just going along because that's what people did or putting on a show for the common people who needed this religion stuff to be kept in line? I don't think true religion is the opiate of the people, but Marx was certainly correct when it came to how elites and aristocrats in the west often used religion, and the elites of this nation were no different in that regard.
To be sure, there are obvious Christian concepts regarding community, covenants, morality, ordered liberty, the role of government, and so on which underlie and are embedded in the Constitutional order established in 1789. There are, in fact, Judeo-Christian concepts embedded in the practice of material science, even though that science has often been used to deny the very foundation on which it is built (and too many modern Christians have accepted this pseudo-conflict - but that's a whole other post). That doesn't mean this country or its government is or ever was Christian.
In any event, it is most obviously not, now. So what do we do? Gerson offers some suggestions and it merits an extended quote (the links are copied from the original):
One option, clearly, is for conservative Christians to imagine themselves as an aggrieved and repressed remnant. This attitude is expressed as stridency, but it is really the fear of lost social position. America, once viewed as the New Israel, becomes the new Babylon. The church engages the world to diagnose decadence and defend its own rights.
There is, however, another option being explored. Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family — once mission control for the family-values side of the culture war — calls Christians to be “a joyful minority.” “We are no longer effective at persuasion because we lack humility,” says Daly. “Some in the faith community are losing legitimacy among younger people because many Christians only speak truth and fail to do truth.”
And “doing truth” leads back to the personalism at the heart of Christian faith — a belief that every human being is valuable, and broken, and in need of grace. “We must always consider the person,” says Pope Francis, a heavy influence on evangelicals seeking a new model of social engagement.
A faith characterized by humility and considering the person would be busy enough. The prevailing culture counts both virtues and victims. The broad decline of institutions leaves many people betrayed, lonely and broken — not only unaffiliated with religion but unaffiliated with family, with community and with all the commitments that give meaning to freedom.I think Gerson is perhaps drawing too sharp a distinction between these options - some of the church's rights at least must be protected if it is to do truth according to the second option. But we must also be wary of pining away for a faux Golden Age when our Christian faith was assumed and we had no need to either understand it or defend it, but simply mouthed it. How many sermons have been preached insisting that Christians ought to be different, and obviously so? Why, then, do so many Christian leaders now seem to long for a time when that difference could not be seen? Whether it is the modernist Christian leader who thinks we need to get with the times and approve of what the world approves, or the conservative Christian leader who thinks we need to go back to an earlier time when the world approved of what we approve, I think both are in error. Christians are different, and both the Church and the faith will be better served by asserting the distinction rather than eroding it.
We must "do truth" - and that is more than just caring for the downtrodden victims of our modern brokenness. Our "doing" is rooted in some convictions about what is true that the broader American and Western culture now rejects - about morals, about the way the world works, about human nature, about beauty. Doing truth, therefore, requires not only an active compassion for those betrayed by the lies of this present darkness, but also a frank, firm, yet compassionate insistence on the light of truth that we are doing. The doing and the doctrine cannot be separated, nor should they be.