A realistic assessment of our present situation in America would have to admit that overturning the 2015 Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage is at best improbable, and rewriting the First Amendment is nearly insurmountable. Of course, no Christian living in 312 A.D. could have imagined that a Christian empire would emerge just one year later when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. Regardless of the precise cause of the Christendom’s end, we would do well to remember that Christendom was born in just such a time as this.
In an article that appeared in the Aquila Report on November 8, 2021, Chris Gordon makes the argument that “Christendom has come to an end in America.” He cites Robert Godfrey who claims that something very specific “has happened in America that brought Christendom to an end”—namely, “the 2015 Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage.”
In general, this is a very good and informative article that is worth reading. I take no issue with its assertion that Christendom has come to an end in America. Nor do I disagree with the author’s claim that “everything seems to be unraveling,” and “something very demonic is at work before us in our present moment.” I would, however, like to suggest that Christendom’s end took place much further back in American history than the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in 2015.
Indeed, I wish Gordon and Godfrey were right in their assertion. If only the end of Christendom in America was actually the result of the 2015 Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, then the restoration of Christendom could be accomplished simply by overturning the court’s decision. While overturning the court’s decision would be of monumental importance for the church, the country, and the common good, overall, it would do little to restore Christendom.
As Oliver O’Donovan has observed there are many competing causes for the end of Christendom, but one sticks out more than the rest: the Establishment Clause, and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. For O’Donovan, the end of Christendom was not in 2015, but in 1791.
There is both paradox and irony here. The paradox can be seen in that the First Amendment as conceived by the founders was supposed to be the guarantor and protector of Christendom. Yet it is precisely this amendment that was used to trigger antireligious sentiment, and the weakening of the church in society. The irony is that the First Amendment is the most cherished and championed of all amendments by the majority of evangelicals. Yet it was the quintessential flaw of the founder’s political theory in that it nearly guaranteed that theology and politics would thereafter be permanently separated.
D.D. Clark correctly recognized that the founders never anticipated this outcome. They never envisioned that atheists, antitrinitarians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims would ever legally hold office. Their context was one of Christian hegemony not religious pluralism. They wished only to separate the legal tie between the Crown and the church as it existed in England. Nevertheless, in the First amendment, they provided the framework for the end of Christendom.
How different America might be at present if only our founders would have enshrined Christianity in the text of the constitution rather than asserting a vague notion of the free exercise of religion. This does not mean, as so many evangelicals presume, that other religions would be discriminated against as a necessary condition. We only need point to Hungry, Poland, and Finland as examples of the contrary. But of course, we have to disabuse ourselves of any utopian ideas on the one hand (such as the existence of a country without any discrimination at all), and to recognize the country in which we now live on the other hand (a country in which discrimination against Christians is becoming alarmingly routine).
A realistic assessment of our present situation in America would have to admit that overturning the 2015 Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage is at best improbable, and rewriting the First Amendment is nearly insurmountable. Of course, no Christian living in 312 A.D. could have imagined that a Christian empire would emerge just one year later when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. Regardless of the precise cause of Christendom’s end, we would do well to remember that Christendom was born in just such a time as this.
Jim Fitzgerald is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary with Equipping Pastors International.