Judeo-Christian America: The Fall of the ‘Christian Nation’

Review by Edward J. Blum

Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise

Author Kevin M. Schultz

Oxford University Press, USA (2011)

I was David Barton once. Having had a conversion to evangelical Protestantism in the 1980s, I became convinced in the early 1990s that “liberal secularism” was destroying the nation and its educational system. I determined to use history to fight back. Examining primary sources from the founding of the United States, I set out to prove that America was built upon “Judeo-Christian values.”

I combed through colonial law and early state constitutions. I read as many speeches and letters as I could from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. It was a tall historical task, especially since I was a teenager living in suburban New Jersey. My research and writing were sandwiched between basketball practices and flirting with girls (both of which I did with great earnestness and equally great ineffectiveness). Years later, my interest in religious history and justice (I really believed then that evangelicals were an oppressed minority) brought me to race, civil rights, and liberal causes. I thought I was unique; it turns out I was wrong.

Kevin Schultz’s new book, Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise, explains my story and so much more. This tremendous study examines how the belief that Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism defined the United States defeated the nativist vision of America as a “Christian nation”; how the concept of “Judeo-Christian values” were created to express the tri-faith belief; how tri-faith became standard operating procedure during World War II as the nation battled European totalitarianism and Nazi genocide; how it created new struggles in America’s suburbs, fraternal organizations, schools, and courts; and how it created a rhetoric for both the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of the new religious right. Through it all, Schultz brilliantly shows that between the labor-capital divide of the 1930s and the racial divide of the 1960s was an ideological contest over the religious composition of the nation.

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