Being Muslim is part of what the Turkish people and government call “Turkishness,” a unifying concept that goes all the way back to Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Offending “Turkishness” is a criminal act in Turkey. The Turkish government is the steward of every one of the seemingly countless mosques within the nation and it pays the imams. Thus, Turkey is a Muslim nation with a secular government, but its secular character would not be seen as anything close to secular on an American model.

In this light, President Obama’s statement that America is not a Christian country is also both accurate and helpful, though he is being criticized by many conservative Christians for making the claim. His clarification, offered in Muslim Turkey, establishes as a matter of public fact the reality that our American constitutional system is very different from what is found in the Muslim world — and even in Turkey itself.

Furthermore, if the United States is to be understood as a Christian nation in the same sense that most nations in the Islamic world consider themselves to be Muslim nations, then America is at war with Islam.

The controversy over the president’s remarks in this context was misplaced. There is indeed a controversy over whether it is appropriate to call America a Christian nation in the sense that Americans would even make such a claim — but the context in Turkey and the Muslim world is very different.

Do American Christians really believe that Christianity benefits by being associated with all that America represents in the Muslim world? To many Muslims, America appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion and sexual revolution. Does it help our witness to Christ that all this would be associated in the Muslim mind with “Christian” America?

Beyond any historical doubt, the United States was established by founders whose worldview was shaped, in most cases quite self-consciously, by the Christian faith. The founding principles of this nation flow from a biblical logic and have been sustained by the fact that most Americans have considered themselves to be Christians and have operated out of a basically Christian frame of moral reference. America is a nation whose citizens are overwhelmingly identified as Christians and the American experiment is inconceivable without the foundation established by Christian moral assumptions.

But America is not, by definition, a Christian nation in any helpful sense. The secularists and enemies of the faith make this argument for any number of hostile and antagonistic reasons, and they offer many false arguments as well. But this should not prompt American Christians to make bad arguments of our own.

I criticize President Obama, not for stating that America is not at war with Islam, but for failing to be honest in clarifying that we do face a great civilizational challenge in Islam. Islam is, in effect, the single most vital competitor to Western ideals of civilization on the world scene. The logic of Islam is to bring every square inch of this planet under submission to the rule of the Qur’an. Classical Islam divides the world into the “World of Islam” and the “World of War.” In this latter world the struggle to bring the society under submission to the Qur’an is still ongoing.

At the time, President Obama also created his own confusion over these issues, subverting his own main point. If America is not at war with Islam, it would seem unhelpful for the Obama administration to refer, against previous American practice, to Iran as “The Islamic Republic of Iran.” Similarly, some of his words and gestures during his trip seemed overly indulgent toward Islam — especially as these words and gestures would have been interpreted in the larger Islamic world.