Many explanations have been offered, and we will never know for sure why that was, since Washington never said. Some say it's because he didn't believe the Eucharist was Jesus; some argue he didn't believe in Jesus like orthodox Christians do in the first place. Some argue he felt he was a sinner [as a slaveholder?] and so theologically "unworthy" to take part in the "Lord's Supper."
Still others argue that in leading the American Revolution against the King of England, who by law was also the head of the Church of England [Anglican, now "Episcopal" in America], Washington simply couldn't be a good Anglican, since C of E religious services contained prayers for the king.
The much-reviled Rev. Peter Lillback---a theologian, not an accredited historian, mind you---author of George Washington's Sacred Fire, on his blog the other day, argues the last theory:
Scholars are agreed that Washington ceased to commune and resigned as a vestryman at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Taking these actions, he was breaking with both Church and State as he began to lead the American Revolutionary Army. While some have identified these actions with a nascent deism, a better explanation is he recognized he was no longer able to be in communion with the King or the King’s clergymen. Thereafter in the Revolution, reports of Washington’s communing occur in non-Anglican settings such as the Presbyterian church in Morristown, New Jersey. Furthermore, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton reported to her family that on the day of the new President’s inauguration in New York City, she had the privilege to kneel and take communion with him in an Episcopalian Chapel. Washington’s actions in this regard are consistent both with his break from the lawful Church and his return to its successor that was legally recognized on both sides of the ocean by the King and Congress.
An interesting claim, and Lillback offers Mrs. Alexander Hamilton as a witness, that after the success of the American Revolution that freed Anglicanism from the monarch of England as the head of his church, George Washington ex-ex-communicated himself.
Also interesting and relevant to this academic debate are Lilliback's claims that Washington sought to take Communion from non-Church of England sources during the Revolution.
Me, I don't care much about this issue. The public GWash swore his first oath as president on a Bible, a public act.
And in his Farewell Address,
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.
But since our American Creation blog is about clarity, and so much has been made of the theological implications of Washington and the Eucharist, I figger the culture warriors should have a shot at Peter Lillback's claims and research, since they're the ones who care about it so much.
At least now we have Lillback in his own words, not what people say he said, the stuff of straw men. Have at it. But even if Mrs. Alexander Hamilton was a liar for Jesus, that doesn't make Lillback one for choosing to believe her testimony. At some point, that ugly rhetoric must stop.