If the question is whether the United States is a Christian nation, then the answer must be no. There is no established religion in the United States or, at least, there has not been since Congregationalism lost its status in Massachusetts in 1833.
If, however, the question concerns the cultivation of a Christian culture in the United States, then there is little doubt of its existence.
Moreover, as a feature of discipleship, Christians should teach their children how much of what we take for granted stems from the impact of Christianity upon the United States.
As one example, take Welch’s Grape Juice.
It is lost on most people today that Welch’s Grape Juice was developed by T. B. Welch in 1869. A Methodist minister from Vineland, NJ, Welch developed a formula that kept grape juice from fermenting in response to the growing demand for non-fermented wine as part of communion.
There were several streams that came together to impact Welch.
First, the temperance movement was beginning to take shape as a national movement in response to a number of issues.
Most people forget that the slave trade had been closely connected to the selling of rum from North America. New England ships involved in trading slaves were known as “Rum Vessels.”
Frederick Douglas, who was an ordained African Methodist Episcopal Zion lay minister (an exhorter), wed together temperance and abolition to the point of preaching a temperance tour around Ireland during the 1840s.
When he addressed the World’s Temperance Convention at Covent Garden, London in 1846, he reminded the delegates that there had been African American temperance societies in the U.S. for sometime even though they were not allowed to meet with white temperance societies and slavery still raged on. He went on to chastise those present for not supporting abolition more strongly.
On top of this, the proliferation of bars combined with few rights for women and children in the late nineteenth century meant that they bore the burden of alcoholism without much legal recourse.
It was in part because of the ongoing support for women and African Americans that the temperance movement came about in relation to the holiness movement. Holiness had always been a social movement, not just about making individual saints.
Second, the holiness movement began to take shape with the first national camp meeting at Vineland, NJ in 1867.
From that initial camp meeting the message of holiness spread north, south, and west until it engulfed parts of the United States. Many women were associated with holiness from Frances Willard, who became president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union to Amanda Berry Smith and Hannah Whitall Smith who became international evangelists for the cause of holiness.
Above these prominent women, however, looms Phoebe Palmer, a promoter and advocate of holiness through her Tuesday Meetings, editorship of The Guide to Holiness, and numerous books.
Long before the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, Oberlin College was admitting women (1833), including African-American women. By 1860 over 300 women had graduated from Oberlin. Of course, Oberlin College was founded as an institution to promote holiness with Charles Finney as a professor of systematic theology and Asa Mahan its president.
T. B. Welch was part of this vast social movement and his creation of Welch’s Grape Juice is part of his contribution to it. It was not Republican in today’s terms nor was it Democratic; it was Christian and it transformed the landscape of the late nineteenth century through the creation of a Christian culture within the broader culture. So, the next time you have a glass of Welch’s, pause and remember there’s more to it than grape juice.