What we are not doing when we make this leap is taking onto account the terminology used in 18th Century
Many of the written prayers suggested for the Anglican Church in two books of Homilies, which were created to teach Church doctrine to those who did not have regular Anglican Priests in their service, used the words Divine Providence. No one who reads those texts will come away with the impression that any of the authors, including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was a Deist or a Unitarian or a unitarian. Why then do we try to pin those labels on the Father of our Country?
George Washington was definitely a very private man when it came to his personal religious convictions but he was not one, when he did speak about it, to make careless statements for political or personal gain. The facts are that he was a member of the Anglican Church. One may argue that he did or did not take Communion but that would not preclude his own dedication to the Church. An earlier post on this blog referenced the oath that he took as a vestryman in the Church. George Washington was not a man to take an oath lightly (whether or not he punctuated it with “so help me God” ... which, by the way in this instance it actually was called for!)
Here is the source and the text itself.
This is what was reported as to the oath George Washington swore when he became a Vestryman
From the Records of the County Court of
I, AB, as I do acknowledge myself a true son of the Church of England, so do I believe the articles of faith therein professed, and do oblige myself to be conformable to the doctrine and discipline therein taught and established; and that, as Vestryman of this Parish, I will well and truly perform my duty therein, being directed by the laws and customs of this country, and the canons of the Church of England, so far as they will suit our present capacity; and this I shall sincerely do, according to the best of my knowledge, skill, cunning, without fear, favor, or partiality; so help me God.
George Washington signed the vestryman oath for Fairfax Parish in
There are a lot of arguments about the religious foundation of
America is not a Christian nation, but that is a very different proposition than concluding that Christian values did not have a lot to do with the formation of the United States.
It is unthinkable that we should rewrite history and try to explain away the most popular and widespread religious beliefs of the day and pretend that they were not a large part of the foundation of this nation. We must not be afraid that by admitting this we somehow have become religious right wing nuts who want some kind of Christian Theocracy to prevail in our government. The founders went a long way to make sure that did not happen but that doesn’t mean that we have to distance George Washington from his religious beliefs to make this nation safe from some vast right wing religious conspiracy.
George Washington believed the doctrine of the Anglican Church. He may not have taken Communion but that was not some kind of way for him to cross his fingers and pretend that he didn’t really support and believe all of it. AND … it also does not mean that he was, or is ever going to be, the poster boy for a Fundamentalist American Theocracy. Everyone just calm down and step away from the religious furor. Look at the facts as they present themselves and, even more importantly, from the perspective of that historical time period.
It is very easy to pick apart the poor scholarship (and it should be picked apart!) of people who really are trying to advance an agenda. It is easy to ridicule things like George Washington’s Valley Forge Prayer or Vision (and they should be scrutinized) but it is very difficult to argue with facts. As one Unitarian/unitarian/Congregationalist/Puritan founding father once said,
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams
In conclusion, I would like to leave you with a few facts from The Thanksgiving Proclamation given by George Washington on 3 October 1789.
By the President of the
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor--and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be--That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions--to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
So from the words of The Founding Father, himself, wouldn’t it be OK, as long as it does not destroy “good government, peace and concord -- To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us”?
It is pretty obvious that George Washington was not physically, intellectually, spiritually or even governmentally afraid of religion as long as it was not being used by government for its own ends or as long as good government did not dictate religious beliefs to any individual, including George Washington!