Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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10 Responses

  1. E.C. Gach says:

    It’s an interesting question of whether a word is defined by its use, or used depending on how it’s defined.

    It’s also been apparent with the polemics of the “New Atheists” who enjoy debating those “true” Christians who don’t run away from the tenets they subscribe to upon taking up the title of “Christian.”Report

  2. the innominate one says:

    It seems to me that you are arguing with the proponents of the Christian Nation thesis, and for simplicity, you are using their own terminology, as you’ve repeatedly made clear. Nothing wrong with that.Report

  3. Michael Heath says:

    Jon Rowe stated:

    I wanted to write a follow up to Mr. Ridgely’s post about meaning of terms as it relates to the Christian Nation controversy. When I first began this inquiry about seven years ago, I assumed — wrongly — that most America’s Founders were strict deists and would not have considered themselves Christians.

    I’m surprised by this. Do you mind sharing your educational background and what you attribute your misperception towards.

    For me the research you share has been very helpful to me, but it doesn’t supplant what I learned. Instead it fleshes out and amplifies what I’ve learned from my rural small-town public school, education at Michigan State U., and popular history books marketed towards the layman, e.g., Gordon Wood, Ron Chernow, Ralph Ketcham, Nathaniel Philbrick, Kramnick & Moore.Report

  4. Michael Heath says:

    Re your blog post subject.

    I think we need different standards when determining who is a Christian based primarily on context. I have no problem with a Calvinist or Catholic claiming each other or those horrid liberal Episcopalian-types are not Christians, e.g, the much reviled John Shelby Spong – whose iconoclasm is a breath of fresh air to me. As long the audience is cognizant of the religion of the advocate and the argument is framed as a debate between faith communities and not in the general public square for political purposes. It seems fair game if often dumb.

    However, since none of these groups have any authority over the other I’m much repulsed when one group attempts to smear a political opponent’s fealty to Christendom based merely on their denominational or doctrinal differences. There is no arbiter of who is and is not a Christian between the competing self-identified Christian denominations. People who attempt to divide us by arguing, “he’s no true Christian” when in fact he or she most certainly are should be ridiculed and ignored. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a user of such an argument capable of providing a cogent argument on any political matter, which I conclude is why they resort to only flawed arguments.

    What I find most frustrating is how the terms of Christianity change by a single advocate in order to promote a political objective. The obvious example are conservative history-deniers and revisionists who disingenuously point to the founders as Christian while reviling those very same contemporaneous types today as not being Christian. Their voting constituencies’ lack of education of both history and current events allows such false memes to grow as we encounter David Barton’s star and power growing in a way that must have D. James Kennedy rolling in his grave, “If only I’d been born a generation or two later”.

    So from a political perspective, I’d humbly argue a Christian is one who defines himself as one and is a member of a Christian denomination. If they lack the latter it opens the door to comparing their behavior and rhetoric to others – always a difficult if not impossible enterprise which I would avoid while quickly conceding I’d often be wrong and perhaps hypocritical given I conclude Mr. Obgama is a Christian in spite of his unique situation causing him to currently be a member of no church.

    Using this paradigm we find many people well-behaving Christians would prefer certain people not be described as Christians, Fred Phelps and Newt Gingrich come to mind. In Mr. Gingrich’s case my argument would be that if Christians didn’t want to be associated with his ilk who leverage-their Christian label while seeming to have missed all of Jesus’ admonitions on how to treat others, they should have higher and stricter enforcement that expels bad actors from being members. Mr. Gingrich is a Christian because he’s a member of the Catholic Church where his behavior is not an outlier for his socio-economic class. I perceive no good argument claiming he isn’t a Christian from the context of the public square given his position in his faith community.

    Mr. Phelps is a tougher sell. I would argue he is a Christian in spite of his cult-like membership in a church he founded comprised only of his family members where I would concede that is a worthy argument he might not be a Christian. However I’d go with Christian while respecting contra arguments because the positions he holds are not that far-off from those held by social conservatives in general, and most concerning are representative of what we would expect if social conservatives political power became dominant. Conservative Christians who reject Phelps as a Christian point to a message of hate being contra to their style (“love the sinner, hate the sin”), but their end-games are mostly equivalent. I also hold the slippery-slope argument, that social conservatives dominating our discourse would not be content with merely prohibiting abortion rights and gay rights and other actively lobbied efforts, but would march on to every more draconian measures consistent with Mr. Phelps, e.g., the criminalization of being gay (part of a handful of state GOP platforms), restrictions if not prohibition on birth control (in spite of its universal use amongst this group), tougher divorce laws, etc.Report

  5. tom van dyke says:

    Gordon S. Wood is not Isaac Kramnick.

    “We do not, and cannot, base American constitutional jurisprudence on the historical reality of the Founding. Our constitutional jurisprudence accepts a fiction involving the Founders’ intent—it may have become a necessary legal fiction as the country’s laws have taken shape but it is a fiction nonetheless.”

    Barton-Beck wouldn’t be possible without the true common misperception, that “the Founders were all deists.” The system failed somewhere.

    For even if reducing religion to “ceremonial deism” is a necessary “legal fiction” in the 21st century, as Gordon Wood says, there are far too many products of our system who believe that a bland deism was actual religious landscape of the Founding.Report

  6. Steve S. says:

    I think the question is, is there anything other than Christianity for which we say, if you self-identify as X you may not in fact be X? I mean, non-trivial stuff (saying you’re 6’4″ when you’re really 5’9″ doesn’t count)? Christianity sure gets a lot of privileges in our discourse even when we pretend it doesn’t.Report

    • Jon Rowe in reply to Steve S. says:

      If we put our heads to it, I think we could come up with a variety of things.

      “Marriage” is a good one as well. SS couples in Mass. saying they are “married.” Other folks who would say, I don’t care what the law says you are not.Report

  7. the innominate one says:

    Steve S.:

    That depends. Do people generally accept Bill Maher’s claim of being a libertarian?Report

  8. Jim51 says:


    That’s quite a letter you got from Mr. Isaacson.

    May I say, that when reading your posts and comments on issues regarding the religious views of our founding generation, I have never gotten the feeling that you meant to “personally term(ing) someone not a Christian when they called themselves one.” You have often been careful to credit not only the various forms and views of christianity, but also the self descriptions of those whose religious views you were examining and discussing.
    But you are right that we need some clarity and working definitions, or at least an assortment of working definitions. The lack of clarity in such things is much abused.


  9. Jon Rowe says:


    Many thanks!Report