Religion in Society

How Christian Were America's Founders? Very!

| by FRC

The New York Times Magazine is at it again. They’ve just published a long article asking “How Christian were the Founders?” Their short answer: Not very. My response would be: Very.

Let’s start with George Washington. Washington was termed by biographer James Thomas Flexner “the gentlest of Christendom’s captains.”

Flexner was referring of course to Washington’s deeds, not his inner faith. Still, try to imagine this situation: Your army has been driven out of New York by the British and their Hessian mercenaries. These German-speaking foes regularly refused to give “quarter” to young American soldiers who threw down their weapons and surrendered.

Instead, they cruelly ran our boys through with their 17-inch bayonets. These same Hessians chased your army across New Jersey. Once, they captured one of your army chaplains, a Presbyterian. The Presbyterians were especially hated by the British for fomenting revolution from their pulpits. The Hessians stripped the unfortunate cleric and stabbed him thirteen times, leaving his naked body in the road. They then proceeded to rape their way across New Jersey. When, on Christmas Night, you defeat these same Hessians and take eight hundred of them prisoner, wouldn’t that be a time to exact revenge? If only to show your enemy that their cruelties would not go unanswered?

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That was George Washington’s situation following his Crossing of the Delaware and his miraculous victory at Trenton. His Excellency ordered that the captured Hessians be treated “with humanity.” And they were.

Washington’s personal motto was “Deeds not Words.” That’s why it is important to watch what he does, not just what he says. Washington worshipped regularly throughout his life. Most modern journalists never worship. So it’s not surprising that they discount the importance of worship. Washington made a point of going to church often. Each Sunday, he knelt quietly at his pew and recited the words of the Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord.” Was all this mere show?

When he came to New York to take office as our first President, Washington added four words to the constitutionally-prescribed oath—“So help me God.” He did this in front of the entire new government of the United States. And before a cloud of witnesses in Lower Manhattan. Then, he did something even more remarkable: he kissed the Bible.

He kissed the Bible. If he rejected the Savior whose story is told in those pages, would he have done such a thing? Would we admire him if he did?

Today’s atheizers love to cite Franklin and Jefferson against the idea that the Founders were Christians. Franklin and Jefferson, to be sure, held unorthodox opinions. Still, it was Franklin who appealed to the delegates to the Constitutional Convention to join in prayer. “If a sparrow cannot fall without his notice, can a great empire rise without his aid?” Now, in whose Holy Book might Franklin have found that sentence about the falling sparrow?

Jefferson, it is entirely true, rejected many central tenets of the Christian religion. But he strongly affirmed the moral teachings of Jesus. And it was this Mr. Jefferson who  rejected the atheism of many of his French philosophe friends. He said it was self-evident that the world had been created: “You can tell by the intelligence in the design.” Hmmm.

Do you think the Intelligent Design folks have been reading their Jefferson? And how is it that in Dover, Pennsylvania, a federal judge can cite Jefferson’s “wall of separation” letter—and be applauded by the nation’s media for doing so—to ban the teaching of Intelligent Design? The judge wants to deploy his notion of Jefferson’s ideas to shoot down the teaching of–what else?– Jefferson’s ideas about Creation.

Far more representative of the faith of the Founders were Rev. John Witherspoon of New Jersey and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, both Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon was a Presbyterian divine and Carroll was a devout Roman Catholic from Maryland. Where else on earth in 1776 could two such men mutually pledge to each other, their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor?”

So, the atheizers will continue their half-century project of stripping away America’s Christian heritage. They will continue crafting their own naked public square. They must rely on ignorance of the nation’s true history to do so.

On occasion, even their favorite non-Christian Founders will trip them up. As a young man, Franklin the Printer composed this self-parodying epitaph:

The Body of
B. Franklin
Printer;
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.
He was born on January 6, 1706.
Died 17[90]

More seriously, the aged Franklin wrote to an anxious Rev. Timothy Dwight. It was just weeks before his death. He did not know if Jesus was Lord, Franklin candidly admitted, but that he had never “dogmatized” on the subject. He expected to know shortly without the trouble. He preferred, he said, to live his life doing what Jesus commanded his followers to do. Franklin had often said that he found his pious neighbors more ready to keep holidays than the commandments. Ouch. It’s a pointed reminder for all of us.

Then, as now, the vast majority of Americans self-identified as Christian. Jefferson and Franklin were not successful in getting their fellow Founders to adopt a Seal for our new nation that showed the Children of Israel being led from bondage in Egypt. Who will lead us out of bondage to today’s atheizing journalists?