Christian America and the Kingdom of God

Author: Richard T. Hughes
Foreword by Brian McLaren
A provocative indictment of the fundamentalist myth of Christian America
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Publication Date
Paperback: 08/06/2012
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About the Book

The idea of the United States as a Christian nation is a powerful, seductive, and potentially destructive theme in American life, culture, and politics. Many fundamentalist and evangelical leaders routinely promote this notion, and millions of Americans simply assume the Christian character of the United States. And yet, as Richard T. Hughes reveals in this powerful book, the biblical vision of the "kingdom of God" stands at odds with the values and actions of an American empire that sanctions war instead of peace, promotes dominance and oppression instead of reconciliation, and exalts wealth and power instead of justice for the poor and needy.

With conviction and careful consideration, Hughes reviews the myth of Christian America from its earliest history in the founding of the republic to the present day. Extensively analyzing the Old and New Testaments, Hughes provides a solid, scripturally-based explanation of the kingdom of God--a kingdom defined by love, peace, patience, and generosity. Throughout American history, however, this concept has been appropriated by religious and political leaders and distorted into a messianic nationalism that champions the United States as God's "chosen nation" and bears little resemblance to the teachings of Jesus.

Pointing to a systemic biblical and theological illiteracy running rampant in the United States, Hughes investigates the reasons why so many Americans think of the United States as a Christian nation despite the Constitution's outright prohibition against establishing any national religion by law or coercion. He traces the development of fundamentalist Christianity throughout American history, noting especially the increased power and widespread influence of fundamentalism at the dawn of the twenty-first century, embodied and enacted by the administration of President George W. Bush and America's reaction to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Timely and provocative, Christian America and the Kingdom of God illuminates the devastating irony of a "Christian America" that so often behaves in unchristian ways.

About the Author

Richard T. Hughes is Director of the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies and Distinguished Professor of Religion at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, and author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Myths America Lives By and How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind.

Also by this author

The American Quest for the Primitive Church coverMyths America Lives By cover


"Hughes busts the myth of America as a Christian nation by quoting widely from the Bible and showing how American actions since the founding of the republic have often contradicted the central scriptural teaching of peace on earth and goodwill to man. . . . A genuinely thought-provoking read, Christian America and the Kingdom of God makes one wonder if those who wage wars and bloodshed in the name of God do really know the holy canon."--Chicago Sun-Times

“Hughes provides a solid, scripturally based explanation of the kingdom of God--a kingdom defined by love, peace, patience and generosity.”--Peoria Journal Star

“In this timely contribution to widespread discussion about the United States as a Christian nation, Hughes offers a concise history of the cultural influence of the idea, a critique based on careful reading of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, an interpretation of the appeal of religious fundamentalism to Americans, and an answer to the question, why do we think of the U.S. as a Christian nation? . . . Highly recommended.”--Choice

"An important sign of the times. Its passion, clarity and critical piety make it the kind of book that could build a movement."--The Christian Century

"As evangelicals continue to struggle with their identity in the post-George W. Bush era, let us hope that gentler, more reasonable voices like that of Richard Hughes prevail over those that prefer stridency and partisanship."--Huffington Post

"A landmark work."--Brethren in Christ History and Life

"Christian American and the Kingdom of God offers a compelling and sobering message. It will challenge many readers to reexamine the sense of identify they have as Americans and will no doubt provoke many others to think seriously about the moral and political consequences of confusing Christian America with the kingdom of God."--The Mennonite Quarterly Review

"This book belongs in every library. Despite its severe verdicts, it is always civil in tone. In its clarity of literary style and sources, it seems unusually teachable for a course that offers perspectives on American history."--Church History

"Hughes has provided us with a work that is intelligent, accurate, and most of all relevant to the place Americans find themselves today."--Religion


"Richard T. Hughes gives us a powerful and eloquent critique of those who would use a distorted interpretation of Christian belief to further their political agenda. He does this with impressive theological scholarship and with an unswerving commitment to peace and social justice."--Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present

"This work is to be located in the first rank of the many new debates regarding the nexus between 'religion' and 'politics' in America. Hughes bases his narrative on thorough research, is at home in the biblical and theological literature that informs the debates, and demonstrates a conscience for presenting an approach that should advance the common good."--Martin E. Marty, author of The Protestant Voice in American Pluralism

"A powerful call for truth in the muddled world that confuses Christianity and American nationalism."--Robert N. Bellah, coauthor of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life

"Hughes's deep historical learning and his trenchant analysis of current events demand close attention. The highlight of this challenging book is its extensive canvassing of the material in the Old and New Testaments concerning what 'chosen people' and 'kingdom of God' meant for the biblical writers. Those who think that the United States is a distinctly Christian nation and those who are sure it is not will both read this book with great profit."--Mark A. Noll, author of God and Race in American Politics: A Short History

"With relevant analysis and restrained passion, Hughes employs both the Bible and American history to dismantle the politically dangerous idea of a Christian America. Few have written on this topic with as much intelligence and authority as he."--Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity for the Rest of Us and A People's History of Christianity

"With passion and compelling evidence, this superb book shows the clear difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of America."--Donald B. Kraybill, author of The Upside-Down Kingdom

"With roots in the Churches of Christ--a tradition that takes the Bible with great seriousness--Hughes knows his New Testament and tells those who place flags above their Bibles that the kingdom of God salutes no flag. We owe him a debt for combining his knowledge as a historian with his insight into Hebrew and Christian scripture."--Robert M. Randolph, Chaplain, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Meticulously researched, brilliantly reasoned, and carefully written, this book is grounded in the prophetic peace-and-justice values of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Timeless in theme and timely in need."--Dr. Ronald B. Sobel, Senior Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York

"This may well be the best book ever written about American civil religion and our peculiar penchant for fashioning a god in Uncle Sam's image."--Tony Norman, columnist and associate editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"I am one of many who owe Hughes a debt of gratitude for his effort to restore integrity to our religious and political life in this important book."--Parker J. Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life

"A vigorous, penetrating, and compelling analysis of how we got where we are with a mistaken sense of U.S. identity, this book will be immensely instructive as we sort out the recent binge of religious self-indulgence and return to the reality of life in the world."--Walter Brueggemann, author of The Prophetic Imagination

"With peerless research into both biblical and historical sources, Hughes dispels the myth of America as a 'Christian nation.' Hughes is persuasive and lucid; his arguments deserve a wide hearing."--Randall Balmer, author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America

"Since many Americans claim we are a Christian nation, they stand self-indicted, and in this powerful and persuasive book, Hughes argues that they have indicted their country as well as themselves."--John Dominic Crossan, author of God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now

"The biblical vision of the kingdom of God is characterized by peace and justice, not greed, violence, and war. As a black Christian who has wrestled with these issues for more than fifty years, I find this to be an exceptional book."--John M. Perkins, President, John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development, Jackson, Mississippi

"We American Christians desperately need to learn the difference between America and the Kingdom of God, and Hughes is a master teacher on this important subject."--Richard J. Mouw, President and Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Every student of American religion, American history, and American politics should read this book."--Jack Scott, Chancellor, California Community College System

"An insightful, unsettling analysis of a fundamental misunderstanding and misuse of Christian faith. In these dark times, Hughes sheds a discerning light, reminding us that the kingdom of God is still at hand."--John Neafsey, author of A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience


A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2010.