In the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers invoked God or “the Creator” to give the new nation its power and strength, and to imbue the people with inalienable rights, among them, the right to elect their own leaders, a daring notion dependent on the people holding their leaders to certain standards.  In his Farewell Address in 1796, Washington writes, “It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” (1) He also makes it clear that religion is necessary to maintain the mortality required for democracy to work.

The insightful (some say “prophetic”) French sociologist, Alexis de Tocqueville, credited Christianity with planting the ideas of freedom and equality in the people’s hearts and minds.  It was these noble, altruistic ideals that blossomed into the radical concept of democracy.  Upon his visits to America in the 1830s, Tocqueville observed religion and politics working together in a harmony that fostered the young country.  In order to safeguard it from tyranny, he wrote, religion “should be considered the first (of America’s) political institutions.” (2)

Tocqueville was writing soon after the Second Great Awakening, when revivals and circuit riders brought religion to the frontier and converted many to the Protestant faith. These early evangelicals took the Gospels at their word, pushing institutions to help “the least of these.”  They supported the women’s suffrage movement, prison reform, public education, and called for the end of slavery. They took on the ravages of alcohol with the temperance movement, and while prohibition may not have worked out, their hearts were still in the right place.

During this time, most evangelicals believed that Jesus would return and reign for a thousand years after a majority of the Earth’s population had been won over to Christianity.  In this “end-times” theology called “post-millennialism,” Christians were charged with preparing the return of Jesus by making the world more like heaven.  While the average Christian may not have dwelt on eschatology, or actively searched the skies for Christ’s return, they understood they were supposed to make their city, town, or outpost, a more just and equitable place.

So what went wrong with Christianity in America?

Over the next century, America prospered, but it also paid a high price with a civil war, two world wars, and a depression.  If asked, “is the world getting better?” most Americans would at least hesitate.  Perhaps this pessimism contributed to why more evangelicals began to reinterpret a few cryptic lines in Revelation 20: 1-6.   Once a fringe belief, “pre-millennialism” became widely accepted among fundamentalists by the mid-twentieth century.  This Just In: Christ’s return had been delayed.  He will not be returning until after the tribulation.

This meant that, until Jesus returned, the world was basically a lost cause – and there was nothing anyone could do about it, except hope to be raptured.  (3)  Preachers peppered this cynical, fear-based message into their sermons, telling their congregants the secular world was lost.  It didn’t help that in 1925, the Scopes Monkey Trial had made fundamentalists look like backward hicks to a national audience. Isolated and distrustful, many conservative Christians withdrew from mainstream society, preferring to grow their own subculture in the shadows, until it eventually became ripe for exploitation.

The GOP has so consumed the evangelical that they will agree with anything they are told: tax cuts for the wealthy, repealing health insurance for those who can least afford it, corporate interests over the environment, aka “God’s creation.”   They’re fine with unnecessary wars and pro-gun policies, but stand idly by during Civil Rights and BLM.   Immigrants (truly, the least of these) are talked about in less than human terms.  And, currently, they are working to re-elect a man with (at last count) 91 felony indictments against him (no other US President has had any), openly tried to overturn an election, and threatens more violence.

Washington and Tocqueville saw self-rule as the crowning achievement of human civilization, but also knew it had to be safeguarded.  It was their hope that religion, specifically Christianity, would foster an unselfish devotion to the common good, temper secular materialism, and restrain political ambition.  Unfortunately, evangelicals have abdicated their responsibility to hold their leaders accountable to Washington’s base level of morality, much less show the world how to love our neighbors as Christ commanded his followers.

But, it’s not too late…. if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”   (4)

Jeff Fulmer is the author of the novels Hometown Prophet and American Prophet, now available on Amazon.  Learn more at


  1. Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States, September, 1796
  2. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 279–280, 519, as cited by Carson Holloway, “Tocqueville on Christianity and American Democracy,” The Heritage Foundation, March 7, 2016.
  3. The Bible, NIV Translation, Thessalonians 4: 15 – 17.
  4. Ibid, 2 Chronicles 7: 14.


American Prophet is coming out soon!