Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reformation Day & The Founders

"On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Palace church, marking the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany," as this website notes.

Evangelicals and Roman Catholics still split on a number of issues, like justification. This document that attempted to bring Lutherans and Roman Catholics together claims that it "does not resolve the classic question whether such grace is God’s undeserved favor (Lutheran) or whether it is a spiritual power poured or ‘infused’ into the soul that enables one to love God and merit salvation (Roman Catholic).”

What I find ironic is, whatever their differences the Christian theology shared by Roman Catholics and evangelicals is far closer to one another than either are to the religion of the so called "key Founders."

For instance, here is Ben Franklin on justification, which is so different than the view of evangelicals and Roman Catholics that it makes their views look like differences without distinction:

Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means.

– “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

Though George Washington was less specific when he discussed his views on the afterlife, there is not a SHRED OF EVIDENCE that George Washington held to a salvation scheme that was any more "Christian" than Franklin’s. Indeed, if anything Washington's view on the afterlife was LESS Christian.

As GW put it on the death of a loved one, suggesting she merited salvation through her good works, “She is now no more! But she must be happy, because her virtue has a claim to it.”

No orthodox Christian would state that someone’s “virtue” or works gives them a “claim” to eternal happiness.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

So Help Me God, Knock on Wood, Did Forrest Church Get It Right?

A short while ago, co-blogger Mark in Spokane posted an article in which he praised Gordon S. Wood's new book, Empire of Liberty, A History of the Republic, 1789-1815, with these words, "each page is packed with detail and interpretation, and it is simply a joy to mull over Wood's insights." I've only read one page in the entire book, but that page includes a footnote that appears to fall short of possessing any noticeable insight. Here's the specific footnote from page 64 that I'm talking about:
35. There is no contemporary [or subsequent firsthand] evidence that he [George Washington] also said "so help me God" at the end of the oath; the matter is very controversial today. See Forrest Church, So help me God: The Founding Fathers and the Great Battle over Church and State, (New York, 2007), 445-49. Since the Judiciary Act of 1789 declared that the oath to be sworn by the justices of the Supreme Court and the other federal judges included the phrase "So help me God," it is likely that Washington may have also used the phrase (1 Cong. Ch. 20, 1 Stat. 73, Sec. 8). I owe this information to Steven G. Calabresi.
A single footnote can not affect the overall merit of a scholarly book filled with more than seven hundred pages, but, by itself, it shows that there is no substitute for a firsthand analysis of an important issue. Footnote 35 refers to an Appendix (pgs. 445-49), where Reverend Forrest Church defends the notion that George Washington added a sacred codicil to his presidential oath. Unfortunately, his presentation wanders off beyond the limits of reasonable credibility, and the second item, a reference to the secondary oath for federal judges contained in the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789, completely overlooks the basic oath taken by all federal employees except for the president as specified in "An act to regulate the time and manner of administering certain oaths." This act was signed into law by George Washington nearly three months earlier on June 1, 1789, and it is this generic federal oath that is most similar to the presidential oath.

If a person takes a serious look at the Church's Appendix, then several glaring deficiencies become apparent. First off, Washington Irving was not the first person to describe George Washington as having added the "so help me God" codicil to his presidential oath. This so-called honor belongs to Rufus W. Griswold, who preceded Washington Irving's 1857 account by three years when he published his book, The Republican Court; or American Society in the Days of George Washington, pgs. 138-42. It turns out, neither author ever specified a source for their rendition of Washington's oath. Griswold may have used Washington Irving as his source, since he mentioned listening to a retelling of the inaugural ceremony by the master storyteller of his day. But, whatever Griswold learned from Irving no one can say just what that was. In contrast, it is absolutely clear that Griswold did use the widely circulated anonymous account, which originally appeared in Philadelphia's Federal Gazette of May 8th, as cited by Reverend Church.

The fundamental problem with Irving's account is that it does not come from what can be called a personal recollection. Instead, it is a fact that Washington Irving plagiarized the bulk of his inaugural narrative from the Memoir of Eliza Susan [Morton] Quincy (see footnote, bottom page 52). Another telling point is that, elsewhere in Irving's biography of George Washington (Vol 5, pg 21), Irving states that Washington's inaugural coach "was drawn by a single pair of horses" "on the panels of which were emblazoned the arms of the United States." (Forrest Church, unlike Washington Irving, chose six horses.) This assertion is contradicted by several contemporary newspaper reports (e.g. New York Packet, May 1, 1789) that describe Washington as riding alone in an elegant state coach, which was the only one pulled by four horses. The elegant coach with its gilded trim was loaned out for the inaugural parade by the wealthy Beekman family, and, in contrast to what Irving described, bore the Beekman family coat of arms. Furthermore, according to Griswold's placement of young Irving's viewing position, Irving was located at the "corner of Wall Street and New Streets," one block (about 200 feet) west of Federal Hall, where he was not even in a position to see any part of the inaugural parade. (It would also have been an absolute marvel if Washington Irving could have heard the inaugural oath, since Eliza, who was directly across the street, "so near," she "could almost hear him [George Washington] speak" when he took his oath.)

Next, Reverend Church tries to support his case by a May 9th Pennsylvania Mercury article. This turns out to be a real bummer, because David Humphreys, "Washington's principal aide," had absolutely nothing to do with the cited article. When I investigated this matter, I found out that Church's reference actually came from Philadelphia's Federal Gazette of May 9th, where the introduction to the article stated, "Extract from an essay published by Mr. Humphreys, in the Pennsylvania Mercury, this morning." Further examination conclusively shows that the "Mr. Humphreys" identified here is Daniel Humphreys, the publisher and editor of the Pennsylvania Mercury, and not "David Humphreys, Washington's principal aide." The truth of the matter is that the editor, Daniel Humphreys, had published a rambling and very long-winded month-long serialized essay that had been submitted by a pseudononymous Apocalypsophilos from which the Federal Gazette had selected a snippet.

Shortly after the "Mr. Humphreys" fiasco, Reverend Church refers to the ad hoc House oath of April 6th, but he fails to present any evidence that this oath was ever considered in any other context. It's simply wrong to say that this House initiated, God-laced oath was either a "competing" oath or was overturned "two months later" during the legislative process. The first piece of legislation that passed by Congress was named, "An act to regulate the time and manner of administering certain oaths." Washington signed this bill into law on June 1, 1789. From the time just preceding Washington's inaugural ceremony through to the time when Congress submitted the bill for the President's signature, the bill contained the exact same wording for the proposed federal oath. This oath, which was taken by all federal employees other than by the president, simply reads, “I, A. B. do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.” (No reference to God.) One should note that this oath is the precursor of our current day federal oath, which is also the first oath taken by all federal judges.

The last item presented by Reverend Church comes from a responding letter written by Chief Justice John (not "George") Marshall and addressed to President-elect Thomas Jefferson. Here, Church claims, "I can conceive of no other reason for this exchange apart from Jefferson wishing assurance from Marshall that he would not be required to add the words 'So help me God' to the oath as spelled out in the Constitution." Now, that's a stretch. It is much more reasonable to view Jefferson's March 2, 1801 letter as asking Chief Justice Marshall whether he had not only to swear to the presidential oath, but to also first swear to the same basic oath applicable to all other federal employees. This was just another way of asking that since the Chief Justice had to swear to two different oaths, did the president need to follow a similar protocol? As indicated by Church, "Marshall replied, 'That [oath] prescribed in the Constitution seems to me to be the only one which is to be administered.'"

I can only speak for myself, but, in summary, I do not see how Reverend Forrest Church came close to making a persuasive argument to support the proposition that George Washington had likely added "so help me God" to his oath.

The second part of footnote 35 refers to the Judiciary Act of 1789. In this instance, the attempt to invoke some sense of proleptic rationale so one can be persuaded that "it is likely that [Washington] may have also used the [So help me God] phrase" just doesn't pass muster. As I have already indicated, judges appointed to the judicial branch must submit to two different oaths. The first oath, with no reference to God, was the standard oath until the Civil War for all federal employees to "support the Constitution," whereas the second oath exclusively commits the justices of the Supreme Court and the other federal judges to "administer justice" ... "agreeably to the constitution, and laws of the United States. So help me God"

The president and members of the congressional branch do not have a charter to administer justice. Washington understood the distinctly unique nature of the Judiciary Act when he stated in his farewell address, "A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?"[my italics] In contrast, had Washington ever intimated that obligatory oaths for federal office specified a declaration of religious commitment, then there would be a case for considering whether Washington had added a sacred codicil to his oath of office. In reality, the opposite is most evident. When Washington signed his May 12, 1778 Continental Army oath of allegiance as legislated by the Continental Congress, he did not add the words "so help me God." (For more on this subject, see Historic Oath of Allegiance Comes Home.) Again, when on September 17, 1787, Washington's signature headed the list of delegates who endorsed the proposed godless Constitution, he was fully aware that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Finally and most notably, at the time of President Washington's second inauguration he planned that inaugural ceremony without a single indication of religious acknowledgement. (See American Creation: David Barton and His Seven Signs.)

What is most surprising about footnote 35 is that Professor Wood credits Professor Steven G. Calabresi as the source for his information about Washington's presidential oath, while completely ignoring the 1-12-09 History News Network article, So Help Me God”: A George Washington Myth that Should Be Discarded, by Peter R. Henriques. You can find the associated endnotes to Henriques' article at my earlier American Creation blog (see


Further examination conclusively shows - I wasn't surprised, but when Reverend Church was presented with my research on the identity"Mr. Humphreys, he replied:

----- Message sent August 29, 2007 -----

Dear Ray,

Just got back from vacation to receive your research on Daniel Humphreys. I was hasty in my identification and will change the attribution in my appendix on line. [No change has ever been made.] I needn't have included that piece to begin with, and it doesn't change my sense that Washington is more likely than not to have said "So help me God" when he was inaugurated, though you will note that I nowhere claim that we can be certain about this. It is secondary to the argument of my book—that after a fierce, pitched battle between the forces of liberty and order (pluribus and unum), strict church-state separation was not firmly established until following the War of 1812 during the Monroe administration. There can be no doubt, however, that Washington's first inauguration (unlike his second) was a religious as well as a secular rite.

Best, Forrest

Professor Wood credits Professor Steven G Calabrisi - This is the same Steven G. Calabrisi who posted a January 25, 2009 Balkanization Guest Blog entitled, Steve Calabrisi on the Oath Controversy. In the concluding sentence of Calabrisi's guest blog he parades his outdated picture of the first "two centuries" of inaugural history by saying:
The addition of the words including the President’s name (in this case “Barack Hussein Obama”) and “so help me God” are permissible both because they do not take away any of the words the Constitution mandates and because two centuries of practice starting with George Washington himself have established that the addition of these words is permissible.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hitler: God's Plan?

I attempted to allow Dr. Frazer to walk away from our debate over Romans 13 by agreeing to disagree and it seems he wants to keep discussing this so I might as well put all the cards on the table.

I left my last post stating that it seems that his whole premise for thinking that tyrants should be submitted to and obeyed is that he believes in Pre-Destination and the logical conclusion that everything that happens is God's plan so why resist it? In other words, if a government makes it into "authority" God's plan was for that to happen so who are we to resist that plan?

If this is true then what he is saying is that Hitler was God's plan. At least that seems to be the logical conclusion to his line of reasoning. If this is true then I would submit this statement: No wonder people think Christianity is absurd. What logical sense does this make? Why would God plan for Hitler to kill millions of Jews? Plan implies purpose and intent by definition. So is Frazer saying a God of love before Creation planned for Hitler to kill millions of Jews?

I know some will think this is unfair and others will say what does this have to do with American History and the founding? Well there is a poem I have posted boldly in front of my American History class and it goes more or less like this:

"First they came for the Communists and I was not a Communist so I did not speak up. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics and I did not speak up for the Catholics because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up for me."

I tell my kids all the time that History is full of Hitler's that seek to label, discriminate, enslave, and kill people in order to control the world and one will come around again as History repeats itself. It all starts with trying to take someone's rights away slowly until they have none.

That is what the King of England did to the Colonists. That is what they fought against. They tried to separate themselves from his rule and he pressed the issue, hunted them down and tried to kill them. The Jews were willing to leave the rule of Hitler and he would not let them. Many tried to flee Mao and Stalin and were not allowed. If "they" from the poem are coming then one has no choice but to fight or die. There is no reasoning with "they". "They" are coming to kill anyone who will not bow at their feet.

This was King George. He was a Hitler. According to Frazer both were God's plan. So I guess God wanted Hitler to kill millions of Jews so they should just sit back and let it happen right? I ask Dr. Frazer: Why would God purpose for this to happen in His plan?

I know TVD hates when this historical debate turns theological but there is no getting around it. By definition "Christian Nation" bears the name of Christ. If Christ is associated with God then we have to ask who that God is and if this nation is founded in His image? If God purposed for Hitler to kill a bunch of innocent Jews so he could create the Master Race or intended King George and all the other tyrants that were Kings of England to do similar things, then I want nothing to do with Him nor do I want to be part of a Nation that might be based on His image and bear His name. This is the heart of what I think Brad was trying to get at in his posts about Columbus.

Who is worse the Dictator or King that does this nonsense or the people who sit by letting it happen passively because Romans 13 supposedly says to submit and obey these jerks? I think we all know what the person who wrote the poem about Hitler coming for them would say. I first saw this poem after walking through the Holocaust Museum in D.C. where I saw thousands of pairs of shoes that represented a whole village that was slaughtered by Hitler's minions. Some of the shoes were baby shoes. I was appalled when it hit me that this was one of thousands of villages. Those shoes brought that poem to life as I read it up on the wall as I walked out.

Dr. Frazer, I was willing to let this go but you kept it alive. I must ask you to defend your assumption that all that happens, including Hitler, is God's plan. Why? I feel it is the central root cause behind your literal reading of Romans 13 and your exhortation for Washington and company to just sit and take it more than 200 years ago.

As for those of you who have not chimed in because you feel like you do not know the Bible enough or care about it to join the discussion:

This should simplify things and as the rubber meets to road allow for others to join in this discussion about evil happening because good people say nothing.

I think this is a topic related to the founding that we all can relate to. I want to state again that I respect Dr. Frazer and am not trying to be a jerk to him. I really do appreciate all the time spent on this blog whether I agree with him or not. These tough questions in no means are intended to make him look like a bad guy. He is not.

Joe Winpisinger

Book: “The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life”

Gregg Frazer emailed me about this book published by University of Notre Dame Press and edited by Daniel Dreisbach, Mark Hall, and Jeffry Morrison. Dr. Frazer has a chapter, one that reflects his views, on Hamilton entitled, “Alexander Hamilton: Theistic Rationalist.” Other scholars are from Stanford, Virginia, Cal Berkeley, American Univ., and other prominent institutions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The American Revolution vs. the Bible and Romans 13

Britain's own Glorious Revolution
of 1688 was a dry run for 1776
by Tom Van Dyke

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.---Epistle to the Romans, 13:1

As for Romans 13 and "the meaning understood for 1600 years," let's be precise as to what "1600 years" means.

Leaving aside the long history of arguments that initiated with

---John of Salisbury in 1150 [his Policratus was universally read] through
---Aquinas and the Schoolmen [by what right does one man rule another?], through
---Jonathan Mayhew and other Founding era Protestant preachers and theologians,

let's look back to 1600s Britain: the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, to the thinkers like John Locke and Algernon Sidney who directly influenced the American colonials.

In short, 'twas all a dry run for the American revolution: Britain's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 brought peace to the land and resulted in the restoration of the monarchy with King William and Queen Mary. It came to two theological solutions:

1) It was wrong for the English Civil War to execute Charles I in 1649;

2) King James II "abdicated" when he fled to France in 1688, and so the Glorious Revolution's restoration of William and Mary to the throne made them rightful monarchs

The American Revolution [actually, they called it the "War with Britain" at the time] handled both these problems at the outset in the Declaration of Independence:
1) "When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..."

The American Revolution was no coup d'etat, no replacement of the head of state, as was the execution of Charles I. It was a separation of one people from another.

2) "He [King George III] has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us."

Abdicated. Theological problems solved, in the way that Britain had solved them nearly 100 years before. We may also add

3) that the Crown [William and Mary] accepted the primacy of Parliament when they accepted the throne. That was the deal.

So when the Declaration of Independence condemned the Crown---a personification of the British Government as its titular head of state

3) "For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent..."

"For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever." announced that the deal between one people and another had been broken. And so, when the Declaration states

"Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us."

the British are now the colonists' "brethren," and parliament were not their masters or rulers, because by whatever right one man [parliament] had to rule over another [the colonies] was "unwarrantable jurisdiction" because of the lack of consent of the governed.

And so when the Declaration asserts

"They [Parliament] too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation..."

it's the end of "consanguinity," then, of being of the same blood, the same tribe. What had been one people was now two peoples: without a legislature of their own, or representation in the British parliament, the colonists were second-class citizens, and that meant they did not consider themselves citizens atall.

The Biblical argument against revolution is per Romans 13, which reads:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

and concludes

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Wherefore [ye] must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

But the American colonists came to the same arguments as the British themselves before them, and found their way around and through Romans 13. It was a "separation," not a revolution, and as for the "higher powers," the Crown had abdicated, and the parliament, first among their equals, abrogated the colonists' rights as Englishmen.

It's said by some observers that the Continentals didn't talk about Romans 13 much. True perhaps, but I say Romans 13 was between the lines, every line. The colonists were conscientious men who wanted to do the right thing, before man and before God. And that's why the Declaration of Independence reads the way it does.

Hey, they didn't even cut off the King's head. Compared to the British themselves, the Americans were quite reasonable and decent about the whole thing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Frazer Responds to "Joel Mark"

I've watched Gregg Frazer debate other evangelicals on Romans 13, in particular two of my evangelical co-bloggers, Jim Babka at Positive Liberty and "King of Ireland" at American Creation. While I've learned from their debates, I, a non-Christian observer, notice some arguing from different premises. I get the impression that they believe in different kinds of orthodox Christianity, though all three ARE "orthodox" in their Christology. I would term Babka and KOI "moderate" evangelicals, who hold some beliefs that the more fundamentalist types (like Dr. Frazer) deem heretical. Both Babka and KOI, for instance, believe in Darwin's evolution. And KOI has explicitly stated Genesis was an allegory and

that some of the verses used to prove an eternal judgement in a lake of fire are interpolations of the royalty of the time using religion to scare people into submission.

I have no proof other than the fact that the major religions of the world seem to have spread when the elite of that culture excepted it. I am suspicious that they pervert it to their own ends. I am afraid that Christianity may not be an exception.
Note, I have no problem with this kind of Christianity and were I to convert it would probably be to that kind as opposed to strict fundamentalist, verse and chapter citation that reads Genesis as a literal tale and believes Darwin's evolution false. However, if those are the premises to which one holds, Gregg's understanding of Romans 13 is the more authentic expression of evangelical-fundamentalism. Again, it's ironic that David Barton appeals to so many evangelical-fundamentalist, strict verse and chapter quoters.

So when I observe Gregg debating them, as opposed to the more moderate theological types, I see them playing by the same (or a more similar) set of rules. And Gregg always does an effective job refuting them on strict, Sola Scriptura fundamentalist grounds.

For instance, on this thread, an evangelical-fundamentalist Rev. named "Joel Mark" tried to justify political rebellion on biblical grounds when he commented:

The simplistic platitude that rebellion against authority IS rebellion against God applies in some cases and not others. It’s not that simple in Scripture or in real life.

The church herself does not have as her main mission political rebellion or activism. Using the church for political reballion as if that is her main mission is wrong-headed. But Christians are legal citizens too and they have a right to participate in dissent and/or rebellion, in many various forms–depending on the context. Where one draws the line between dissent and rebellion is a subjective call. But a right understadnig of scripture does not lead to a mandate for some sweeping ban on all social or political dissent or rebellion on all believers in all circumstances.

Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt was more than dissent. It was a rebellion, a godly and just rebellion and God called Moses to lead it.

David respected Saul’s office as king but when David was de-throned, he allowed a civil war to dethrone his own son and get his throne back.

Jesus, on some occasions, rebelled against political, civic and religious aauthorities and they had the politica authority to have him killed unjustly for it.

The apostle Peter refused to submit to the command of the Sanhedrin to shut up.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer rose in rebellion against Hitler (even to articipate in an effort to assassinate him) and he did so rightly and bravely as a faithful man of God.

Martin Luther King, Jr, was a Christian who rebelled against laws and was in the right to do so.

There are Mao’s, Stalins, Hitlers and others in this world and God’s Word did not give Christians some free pass not to care or act on that concern to deal with such tyrannies.

I think that Christians have a legitimate option and even a responsibility in some cases to dissent and/or rebel in some ways against exploitative racism, oppression, tyranny, political deception, and injustice. In fact, unbelievers and others are harshly critical of Christians when they may fail to rise in the name of earthly justice.

While the earthly fate others is an acute concern for Christians, it is still not our main mission in the end to seek earthly justice. Our main mission remains the same: calling sinners to repentance and forgiveness of sins through Christ. Our ultimate citizenship is still in heaven. But the Bible allows for the role of the soldier (in fact it treats it honorably) and even the role of those in legitimate dissent of abusive authority.

It does not change my point to say that God sent the plagues. God clearly used Moses in the rebellious and defiant process of delivering the Israelites from political slavery and tyranny.

One of my points had to do with David and Absalom, not necessarily David and Saul.

I have read and studied all those biblical accounts for myself and it strains them too thin, in my view, to deprive them of their plain meaning in order to fit them into an agenda that calls for some universal legalistic ban on all Christians from any political rebellion or defiance or perhaps even dissent in all cases.


Jesus lived in a theocratic culture and when he defied authorities in the Temple, quite rebelliously, he was defying the ruling authorities of his time and culture sure enough.

With Jesus as our model, we see that there are times and circumstances for total submission to governing authorities and there are times for total defiance. He did not operate on some over-arching ban or mandate. He applied principles of God’s will to the need of the moment faithfully.


Jon wrote; “This deals with disobedience NOT submission.”

I see no moral or consequential discinction here. This seems to be a false dichotomy. To dosobey is to refuse to submit and to refuse to submit is to disobey–total compatibility.

Jon wrote; “The one time Christians are permitted to disobey civil authorities is when need to avoid committing a sin to do so.”

This is always the reason we would ever be permitted to disobey civil authorities.

Accepting the punishment may well be our fate for not submitting or not obeying civil authorities, but that does not speak to the notion of whether Christians should or should not do it in the first place.

And what follows is Gregg's rebuttal on strict biblical grounds to every single point Joel Mark makes:

Joel Mark has conflated and confused a number of different terms and activities. He is quite right that Scripture does not mandate a sweeping ban on “dissent” – but quite wrong in suggesting that it does not ban “rebellion.” The initial problem, of course, is the suggestion that the two are the same thing or even in the same category.

By definition, “dissent” is disagreement; a “difference of opinion.” “Rebellion” is “open, armed, and usually unsuccessful defiance or resistance to an established government.”

In the American situation, King George had no problem with “dissent” – but he fought a war to put down “rebellion.” On the other side, one wonders why the Americans went to the expense and insecurity of rebellion if they could achieve the same by dissent. If they’re the same, they would have the same result, right? We have different words for them because they’re quite different. The U.S. Constitution says that the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended in times of “rebellion.” We continually have people expressing dissent (picketing, Tea Parties, etc.) – does anyone suggest that habeas corpus should be perpetually suspended? Did Lincoln send the Union army into the South when the southerners expressed dissent or to put down rebellion when they took violent action against Sumter?

How, exactly, is obeying an order from pharaoh “rebellion?” In Exodus 12:31, pharaoh commanded Moses to take the people and leave. Moses obeyed that order. There was no rebellion whatsoever. What swords were drawn? Who organized a rebellious army? Which verse talks of an Israelite army fighting its way out of Egypt? For that matter, what did Moses do besides speak the word of God to pharaoh and throw down his staff? God handled whatever coercion was necessary – as He always does when He wants a ruler’s authority over a people to end. The only One Who took action against pharaoh was God – and God outranked pharaoh in authority.

David was the king – Absalom’s false claim did not change that. David is identified as the king throughout the account. So, David did not rebel against authority – he defended his authority against rebellion.

JESUS NEVER REBELLED against ANY authority. He rebuked them and warned them and chided them – but he never attempted to overthrow them or even challenged their authority. If He had, they would have had REAL charges to bring against Him at his “trial” – instead of paying men to lie. Joel Mark’s statement is curious: he says that Jesus rebelled and then says that they killed him “unjustly” for it. If he were a rebel, His execution would have been just!

Peter and the apostles did, indeed, refuse to stop preaching the gospel – that’s “disobedience,” not rebellion. Disobedience targets a law; rebellion targets the authority behind law. We may have to disobey a law if it requires us to disobey God (Acts 5:29); but we are never to resist authority (Rom. 13:2).

To be in subjection is to recognize the legitimacy of the authority over you (it is legit whether or not you recognize it); to obey is to do what they say in a specific instance. One can disobey a particular command (because it requires disobedience to God) and yet remain in subjection by maintaining respect for the authority behind the law. It usually means taking the punishment (Daniel, Shadrach et al, the apostles).

Re Mao, Stalin, Hitler, et al: the emperor when Paul told the Romans to be in subjection to authority without exception – was NERO! He was so bad a ruler that a branch of theology says that he was THE ANTICHRIST. We are, of course, free to care and to act on that concern – but we are not free to disobey God in doing so. The most powerful action we could take is to PRAY to the sovereign God of the universe. Unless you know someone stronger? (Isaiah 14:26-27)

Unbelievers may well be critical of Christians refusing to take actions of which they approve, but God does not. Many first century Christians were martyred for that very reason; and Daniel went into the lion’s den; Shadrach et al went into the furnace. Our testimony to unbelievers is, in fact, tied up in our faithful subjection to authority, according to I Peter 2:12-15. We must not disobey God in order to gain the approval of unbelievers. We may certainly “rise in the name of earthly justice” in various ways – but rebelling against authority is not one of them.

John Adams Addresses A Nation of Christians & more on what is "Christianity"?

I think TVD's recent post hits upon an important point; the "key Founding Fathers," in their public addresses, especially as their role as the first four Presidents of the United States, did their best not to ruffle the feathers of "the orthodox" or any powerful, socially viable branch of Christianity. Indeed the internal theory of their Founding politics demanded "consent" of the governed, many (perhaps the majority) of whom were "orthodox."

Jefferson too. In his second inaugural he stated:

I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that he will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.

I think this and John Adams' above sentiments were sincere; however both are consistent with unitarianism or what has been termed "theistic rationalism." These same first four Presidents could turn around while addressing unconverted Native Americans and speak as though their "Great Spirit" God was the same one that Jews, Christians, Muslims and Unitarians worshipped.

If there is an incompatibility between orthodox Christianity and the American Founding Presidential political theology, it's that the latter is too ecumenical. Orthodox Christianity is not eccumenical; it believes Christ the only way to God. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics can gather together over their shared belief in Nicene orthodoxy; but the America's Founding political theology went further.

I noted this on an evangelical thread (I choose this thread because the smartest, most well educated evangelicals tend to comment there AND the blog has high standards for civility) where I pose a question that most folks there have trouble answering. I noted the "key Founders" tended to present their theological opinions under the auspices of "Christianity" and greatly respected CERTAIN tenets about "Christianity." But...the million $$ question:

“What is Christianity without original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation and infallibility of the Bible?” Whatever it calls itself, is it still "Christianity" or some "other" theological system?

I don't think there is a clear cut answer; the answer depends on one's premises or definitions.

The irony is -- and I'm all about playing up delicious philosophic irony -- those who most loudly and popularly defend the "Christian Nation" idea have a tight definition of "Christianity" and are likeliest to term such a theology as "not Christian." In other words, they evaluate what is a "Christian" as it relates to "their beliefs on doctrines of salvation." Gregg Frazer doesn't even do this when he constructs a definition of late 18th Century "Christianity" that excludes what the first four Presidents believed. Gregg forms a 10 point lowest common denominator among the creeds of the largest "Christian" sects in 18th Century America. And this includes Roman Catholics and Anglicans who would not pass the "born again"/salvation standard of evangelicals.

In other words, while it's still a tight test, Dr. Frazer's is a rung lower (or broader) than the evangelical/salvation test for Christianity.

This is a point evangelicals need to understand. When they hear folks like David Barton claim George Washington was a "Christian," they hear in their minds a "born again" or "regenerate" Christian.

Some folks believe this to the point of delusion. I was shocked once debating a seemingly intelligent evangelical blogger who claimed that while St. Augustine probably wasn't a "Christian," George Washington was. What nonsense.

Again -- delicious irony -- the "Protestant Christianity" of orthodox evangelicals of both today and the Founding era is, despite whatever differences they might have, theologically CLOSER to Roman Catholicism than what George Washington or John Locke PROVABLY believed. After all, Roman Catholics believe in the Nicene Creed, some might even say, they WROTE the creed and constructed the biblical canon. And neither Washington nor Locke provably believed "in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, original sin, the atonement, or justification by faith." Roman Catholics believe in all of these things.

My million dollar question remains. I'm interested in the different answers and defenses thereto.

The Public John Adams on Christianity

Jonathan Rowe notes below John Adams' socio-historical musings on Christianity ["most bloody religion that ever existed"]. And that's OK as far as it goes: although the Aztecs [among others] were certainly worse, some very bad things were done in the name of Christ.

But that's what Adams wrote in a private letter in 1816, well after he'd retired from the public stage. What he said on the public stage was this, in his 1797 inaugural address:

"I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect."

One blogger ran with Jon's post to claim the "most bloody religion" quote as proof that the United States was not a Christian nation. Mr. Rowe rightly replies that that's far too much to read into that quote. As for this quote, I'd say it's also too much to read into it to say that Adams did believe it was a Christian nation.

But I will say he certainly sounds like he's addressing one.

Conference on Ellen White and the Seventh-day Adventists

Over at Religion in American History, Randall Stevens and Amanda Porterfield have written a couple of interesting posts on the Conference of Ellen White, which took place this past weekend in Portland, Maine. And while White has very little to do with the actual American founding, she was an extremely provocative and influential figure in American religious history and helped to shape the Christian landscape of 19th century America.

As co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, White's life and legacy are of paramount importance to the doctrine and beliefs of over 15 million adherents world wide. In fact, her works (often referred to as the "lesser light") are regularly read in conjunction with the Holy Bible ("greater light") and are accepted as official doctrine of the church.

And though this blog focuses primarily on 17th and 18th century issues, I think it would be a mistake to omit Ellen White and the Adventists from our ongoing inquiry into religion and the founding, and the Conference on Ellen White provides us with a unique chance to do just that.

At this conference, a group of specialists on Ellen White and the Adventists, have collaborated on a joint book effort (to be published by Oxford University Press), which they hope will help shed light on this often forgotten figure of American religious history. As Randall Stephens (who attended the conference) states:
I know so little about White and Adventism—something I found on further investigation that I share with other participants Spencer Fluhman, Peggy Bendroth, and some others—that I hesitated to take part at first. But the organizers hoped that those outside the field would ask broad questions about research and writing. I rushed to my library to read Ron Numbers’s bio Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White. Yet, I only had time to crack the book. So, into the breach. The papers/chapters have been fascinating. I never knew how much White, and her contemporary Adventists, was wrapped up in sex reform, visionary mysticism, the shouting Methodist tradition, hydrotherapy, vegetarianism, creationism . . . and on and on. Panels have been asking about the 19th-century context of Adventism, the legacy and influence of White, and the role of emotion in religious experience.
In addition, Amanda Porterfield posts two of the more provocative questions brought up during the conference:
Randall Stephens posed the question, how did Ellen White build a movement out of the discredited wreck of the Millerite movement, and in the face of public scorn? Part of the answer is that her husband and other handlers enabled her success. Her own interpersonal and organizational skills obviously contributed to her authority, and to the authority of her visions. Her emphasis on the Saturday Sabbath enabled believers to separate themselves from others, and also to raid mainline protestant groups for recruits. Both recruits and longtime members relished the perfectionist discipline that promised to bring them into close relationship to heaven. This dynamic allowed for reversing scorn visited on Adventists back onto others.

Spencer Fluhman asked the question, why was Ellen White reproached and vilified by people outside of her movement? Clues to the answer might be found in protestant narratives that instantiated the fiction of mainstream Christianity and used Adventism, like Mormonism, as a foil against which “American” Christianity could be defined. White participated in this dynamic with some enthusiasm, even as her self-proclaimed alterity exerted its own pressure on American society, and on protestant denominations, especially with respect to temperance, diet, and health.
Interesting questions on an important and often ignored religion that has had a dramatic impact on American Christianity.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

John Adams Calls Christianity "the most bloody religion that ever existed"

Yes, he did, in this letter here to F. A. VANDERKEMP, 27 December, 1816. However it helps to read his entire thoughts in context. Adams' thoughts on Christianity were qualified in a half full half empty sense. Adams thought Christianity was both the best and worst religion in the world. And he believed this in large part, because, he thought himself a "Christian" (though one who disbelieved in original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation and infallibility of the Bible).

The following is the ENTIRE letter, so readers can examine the context in full:

I do declare that I can write Greek better than you do, though I cannot say, so well as you can if you will. I can make nothing but pothooks and trammels of the frontispiece of your amiable letter of the 15th. If you had quoted your authority, I might have found it.

Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart.

It would be idle for me to write observations upon Dupuis. I must fill thirteen volumes. If I was twenty-five years old, and had the necessary books and leisure, I would write an answer to Dupuis; but when, or where, or how should I get it printed? Dupuis can be answered, to the honor and advantage of the Christian religion as I understand it. To this end I must study astrology as well as astronomy, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, and Sanscrit.

But to leave Dupuis to be answered or reviewed in Edinburgh or London, I must inquire into the attributes given by the ancient nations to their divinities; gods with stars and new moons in their foreheads or on their shoulders; gods with heads of dogs, horns of oxen, bulls, cows, calves, rams, sheep, or lambs; gods with the bodies of horses; gods with the tails of fishes; gods with the tails of dragons and serpents; gods with the feet of goats. The bull of Mithra; the dog of Anubis; the serpent of Esculapius!!!!

Is man the most irrational beast of the forest? Never did bullock, or sheep, or snake imagine himself a god. What, then, can all this wild theory mean? Can it be any thing but allegory founded in astrology? Your Manilius would inform you as well as Dupuis.

The Hebrew unity of Jehovah, the prohibition of all similitudes, appears to me the greatest wonder of antiquity. How could that nation preserve its creed among the monstrous theologies of all the other nations of the earth? Revelation, you will say, and especial Providence; and I will not contradict you, for I cannot say with Dupuis that a revelation is impossible or improbable.

Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?

The eighteenth century had the honor to discover that Ocellus of Lucania, Timæus of Locris, Aristotle, Tacitus, Quintilian, and Pliny, were in the right. The philosophy of Frederic, Catharine, Buffon, De la Lande, Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, d’Holbach, and Dupuis, appears to me to be no more nor less than the philosophy of those ancient men of science and letters, whose speculations came principally from India, Egypt, Chaldea, and Phœnicia. A consolatory discovery, to be sure! Let it once be revealed or demonstrated that there is no future state, and my advice to every man, woman, and child would be, as our existence would be in our own power, to take opium. For, I am certain, there is nothing in this world worth living for but hope, and every hope will fail us, if the last hope, that of a future state, is extinguished.

I know how to sympathize with a wounded leg, having been laid up with one for two or three months, and I have felt the delightful attentions of a daughter. May you have the felicity to celebrate as many more lustres of Madam Vanderkemp as human nature can bear.

Founders? What Founders?

By James Madison
American Creation guest blogger

"Key" Founding Father
"Father of the Constitution"
Former US President

[Our friend and frequent commenter Ben Abbott writes: "I will comment that I think it improper for anyone to claim, or imply, the founders would favor their world view.."

"World view?" That's an unnecessarily big thing. But we can consult the Founders on what our "social contract," the US Constitution, was understood to mean by those who signed it and drafted it, yes? Let's look at the record...]

Veto of federal public works bill
March 3, 1817

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled "An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements," and which sets apart and pledges funds "for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to internal commerce among the several States, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions for the common defense," I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives, in which it originated.

The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.

"Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them..."

"The power to regulate commerce among the several States" can not include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such commerce without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress.

To refer the power in question to the clause "to provide for common defense and general welfare" would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper. Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms "common defense and general welfare" embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust. It would have the effect of subjecting both the Constitution and laws of the several States in all cases not specifically exempted to be superseded by laws of Congress, it being expressly declared "that the Constitution of the United States and laws made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges of every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." Such a view of the Constitution, finally, would have the effect of excluding the judicial authority of the United States from its participation in guarding the boundary between the legislative powers of the General and the State Governments, inasmuch as questions relating to the general welfare, being questions of policy and expediency, are unsusceptible of judicial cognizance and decision.

A restriction of the power "to provide for the common defense and general welfare" to cases which are to be provided for by the expenditure of money would still leave within the legislative power of Congress all the great and most important measures of Government, money being the ordinary and necessary means of carrying them into execution.

If a general power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses, with the train of powers incident thereto, be not possessed by Congress, the assent of the States in the mode provided in the bill can not confer the power. The only cases in which the consent and cession of particular States can extend the power of Congress are those specified and provided for in the Constitution.

I am not unaware of the great importance of roads and canals and the improved navigation of water courses, and that a power in the National Legislature to provide for them might be exercised with signal advantage to the general prosperity. But seeing that such a power is not expressly given by the Constitution, and believing that it can not be deduced from any part of it without an inadmissible latitude of construction and reliance on insufficient precedents; believing also that the permanent success of the Constitution depends on a definite partition of powers between the General and the State Governments, and that no adequate landmarks would be left by the constructive extension of the powers of Congress as proposed in the bill, I have no option but to withhold my signature from it, and to cherishing the hope that its beneficial objects may be attained by a resort for the necessary powers to the same wisdom and virtue in the nation which established the Constitution in its actual form and providently marked out in the instrument itself a safe and practicable mode of improving it as experience might suggest.

James Madison,
President of the United States

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thank You, Dr. Frazer

I decided to do one final post in my response to Dr. Gregg Frazer to thank him and release him from this discussion. As I read over his response to some posts I made last summer, I realized that we were starting to become redundant and covering ground that has already been fairly well covered. The idea of a blog like this is to promote debate that helps frame a topic for others to read about and comment on. I think that has occurred and most people who have read our exchanges know clearly where each of us stands on Romans 13 and submission to authority. I think this is important to a history blog in that our two positions more or less represent the two positions that have been argued about in Christendom for thousands of years including the time of the American Revolution.

I was going to respond in detail to Dr. Frazer but said about all I wanted to say in the comments section of Jon's post. I maintain the story of Othniel in Judges 3 clearly shows that submission is not absolute. Why would God give his Spirit to someone to rebel against a King that God had directly sent to have authority over Israel if rebellion is always wrong? I have heard Frazer's counter argument and do not buy it.

I think he takes a verse like Romans 13 that is difficult to interpret and should only be used to support other verses at best and makes it the key verse in his argument. Any argument someone makes from the full context of the Bible is refuted with him stating that Romans 13 says clearly what he thinks the text says and that is the end all. The fact is that there are other ways to interpret that verse using the text. Mayhew and Locke do this effectively I feel. I think Locke's interpretation is the most reasonable one I have heard. If anyone missed it I posted on it in August.

Anyway, I think my final comment on Jon's post sums up well my thoughts on this whole exchange and Frazer's bias:

"Frazer stated:

"If the God Who tells us to be subject withdraws that authority and changes that message, then our responsibility changes."

Translation: (Mine)

Submission to authority is not absolute.

Gregg, you cannot say for sure that Othniel had that revelation or Washington did not. You are right when you say that Hitler claimed this too. The North and the South both stated that God was on their side in the Civil War. England and the Colonies both said God was with them in the Revolutionary War.

My entire point to you is that SOMEONE WHO IS EMPHATICALLY SURE THAT GOD IS ON THEIR SIDE IS WRONG in each of these cases. This should humble us and cause us to be willing to re-evaluate our positions all the time. I would say this is especially true for those like you that come to the debate table with a laundry list of assumptions based on deep biases. I stipulate to none of your Calvinist assumptions and to be taken seriously by non-believers you must stop assuming that your PhD gives you that right.

That is how it comes off even if it is not your intention. Tom is essentially neutral in this discussion between me and you and he keeps pointing this out to you as well. You assume that your position on Romans 13 is the correct one and that taints your historical look. In other words, you have a dog in that fight and cannot be totally objective."

With that thought I end this exchange, thank Dr. Frazer for all his time, retract my statement that he was hiding in a cave afraid to respond (some manipulation to get him to come back because I think he adds a lot when he comments on this blog), and allow him the final Calvinist word that I think sums up the biased assumptions that Frazer comes with to the debate table when discussing what the Bible and Romans 13 say about submission to authority: (he is quoting me here and then saying he does not agree)

You say 'Just because something happens does not mean God intended it to be that way.' Here’s where we just fundamentally disagree."

I really do thank you Dr. Frazer and do respect the fact that you took the time to respond to my thoughts. You are now released from this discussion unless you wish to continue though I do not think it would be productive personally.

Harry Jaffa: "Essence of God is known by Reason"

In an interview with "Uncommon Knowledge," scholar Harry Jaffa says that the "God of the Declaration of Independence" is based on reason, and that this "essence of God" is important to America's political institutions.

This understanding of God contrasts with that held by some people of faith, who elevate experience or anecdote over logic and study. According to Jaffa, the faith embraced by America's Founders was a rational one -- and one that helped inform their political principles.

Jaffa also argues that the dissolution of objective moral traditions is something that Karl Marx "wanted" and that, the more we abandon Judeo-Christian morality, the more we are "moving into a communist world."

**Check out Jaffa's "Uncommon Knowledge" interview by visiting this link.

The argument concerning the Founders' conception of moral principle is a theme that Jaffa has addressed many times over the years. Jaffa once stated: "The principles of the social contract are a means by which not only the authority of the people, but the authority of God becomes the authority of the law." ("Political Scholar Jaffa Defends Moral Foundation of Government" by Erik Lindstrum, The Daily Princetonian, Sept 30, 2003).

A professor emeritus at Claremont McKenna College in California, Jaffa is the author of A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War.

Friday, October 23, 2009

‘On this date in 1741’

Long before Freemasonry in Boston became – or allegedly became – a base of revolution in New England, the Craft consisted of Masons contentedly loyal to the Crown and its colonial governors. Remember, these are Masons descending from the Premier Grand Lodge (the “Moderns”), which cultivated close relationships with England’s nobility.

Bro. Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) was made a Mason in London in 1704, and within a year had returned to Boston (he graduated Harvard in 1699) to live and pursue work as a merchant, making him the first known Speculative Mason in the Americas. (In 1682, a Scottish Mason named John Skene had emigrated to what is now Burlington, New Jersey, but he is remembered as an Operative Mason.) Belcher was from a prominent family, was successful in business, and was appointed by George II as governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1730, a position he held until 1741.

Which brings us to this date in 1741.

While there are clues pointing to Masonic activity in Boston c.1720, the first known Masonic lodge in Boston was named, appropriately enough, First Lodge, and was set to labor on August 31, 1733 at the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street. It remains at labor today under the name St. John’s Lodge, and it is the oldest lodge continuously at labor in North America. (It is distinguished from Tun Tavern Lodge in Philadelphia in that it possessed a charter from the proper authorities in London, whereas the Tun Tavern brethren (Benjamin Franklin, et al.) were operating a few years earlier, but as “according to the Old Customs,” meaning without a charter or warrant.)

Governor Belcher was a member of First Lodge; I cannot find a date of his acception into the lodge, but his name appears on the lodge’s membership rolls dated 1736. As noted, Belcher exited the governor’s office in 1741. He later would become governor of the Jerseys, today’s State of New Jersey, settling, like Skene, in Burlington, and would establish Princeton University. Belcher Lodge No. 180 was chartered by the Grand Lodge of New Jersey in 1904. He was succeeded as Royal Governor by William Shirley (1694-1771) who was not a Freemason.

Which brings us to this date in 1741!

Of course the separation of Bro. Belcher from First Lodge did not go unnoticed by the brethren. The lodge records dated September 23, 1741 state (spelling hereby modernized):

Our Right Worshipful Master recommended to the Brethren that it was his opinion some particular order should be observed in toasting the health of our Right Worshipful Brother, the Honorable Mr. Belcher, and that a committee might be appointed as soon as possible to wait upon him, with acknowledgements from the Lodge of his past favors, and to return our thanks, etc.

Voted, that next after the Grand Master, the late Governor of this Province, is to be toasted in the following manner, viz: To our Right Worshipful Brother, the Honorable Mr. Belcher, Late Governor of New England with.... (There follows a shorthand description of a certain thrice hailed battery with which Masons are familiar.)

Voted, that our Right Worshipful Bro. [Thomas] Oxnard, Deputy Grand Master, [and] Brothers Phillips, Row, Price, Hallowell, Forbes, McDaniel, and Pelham, be a committee to form a speech, and wait upon the Honorable Mr. Belcher on behalf of this Society, and to make report of their proceeding the next Lodge.

The lodge records dated September 25, 1741 state (again with spelling hereby modernized):

On Friday, September 25, 1741, the Committee appointed by this Lodge waited upon the Honorable Mr. Belcher, etc., and made the following speech:

Thrice Worthy Brother,

We, being a Committee by the Mother Lodge of New England held in Boston to wait on You, take this opportunity to acknowledge the many favors You have always shown (when in power) to Masonry in general, but in a more especial manner to the brethren of this Lodge, of which we shall ever retain a most grateful remembrance.

As we have had your protection when in the most exalted station here, so we think it is incumbent on us to make this acknowledgement, having no other means to testify our gratitude but this; and to wish for Your future health and prosperity which is the sincere desire of us, and those in whose behalf we appear, and permit us to assure You we shall ever remain

Honored Sir
Your most affectionate Brethren
and humble servants.

Peter Pelham, Secretary
on behalf of the Committee.

First Lodge’s records go on to show Governor Belcher’s answer (with spelling again hereby modernized):

Worthy Brothers,

I take very kindly this mark of your respect. It is now thirty-seven years since I was admitted into the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, to whom I have been a faithful Brother and well wisher to the Art of Masonry.

I shall ever maintain a strict friendship for the whole Fraternity, and always glad when it may fall in my power to do them any services.

J. Belcher.

This reply was printed in the Boston Gazette of September 28, 1741.

Bro. Belcher has descendants who are active in New Jersey Freemasonry today.

Which brings us to this date in 1741!

First Lodge met on Friday, October 23, 1741, and the minutes of this meeting show how a new address had been drafted for the new governor. (With spelling again hereby modernized):

May it please your Excellency,

We being a Committee appointed by the Antient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons of the Mother Lodge of America held in Boston, presume to wait upon you with the utmost sincerity, to congratulate your advancement to the Government of this Province, and to assure your Excellency that our desire is that your Administration may be successful and easy.

We have had hitherto the honor of His Majesty’s Governor being one of our ancient Society, who was ever a well wisher and faithful Brother to the Royal Art of Masonry.

And as it has been the custom for men in the most exalted station to have had the door of our Society’s Constitutions always opened to them (when desired) we think it our duty to acquaint your Excellency with that custom, and assure you, that we shall cheerfully attend your Excellency’s pleasure therein, and as we are conscious that our Society are loyal and faithful Subjects to His Majesty, so we may reasonably hope for your Excellency’s favor and protection, which is the request of

Your Excellency’s
most obedient humble servants.
Peter Pelham, Secretary
on behalf of the Society.

Governor Shirley replied to the lodge. The lodge records show:

I Return the ancient and honorable Society my Thanks for their Address, and Invitation of me to the Mother Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in America.

And they may rest assur’d that their Loyalty and Fidelity to his Majesty will always recommend the Society to my Favour and Protection.

W. Shirley.

This reply was printed in the Boston Gazette of November 3, 1741.

▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼

The Freemasonry of the Colonial era was a very complicated institution. The lodges existing in America at this particular time were spin-offs of the Grand Lodge of England founded June 24, 1717. As noted above in the Philadelphia instance, where Masons did not possess a lodge charter (or warrant) from that authority in London, they met anyway, as was done in the British Isles prior to 1717. However, in 1751 a second grand lodge was formed in England, and its membership was open to a wider segment of English society, including not only the elites of nobility, academia, and the military, but also successful professionals, artisans, and merchants. These were the so-called “Ancient Masons,” a nickname they gave themselves to describe their adherence to the rituals and laws of Masonry as they existed before 1717, when those Masons they dubbed the “Moderns” arose and made themselves known to the public.

By the time of the American Revolution, both of the English grand lodges were in competition throughout the colonies (indeed around the globe). The Ancients, with their more inclusive membership, grew larger and, in America, became recognized with the patriot cause, where the Moderns were firmly allied with the Tories/Loyalists. As the War of Independence ebbed and flowed throughout the colonies, lodges met in accord with the political fortunes of the moment. When British forces took New York City in 1776, Masonic lodges of Patriot sympathies ceased meeting, and lodges of “Moderns” flourished. Conversely, upon the British evacuation of New York, the Modern Masons were supplanted by Ancients. Arguably the most dramatic example of this rift arose upon the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790. Ten thousand citizens paid their respects to this Founding Father, who was elected Grand Master of Masons of Pennsylvania on June 24, 1734. But the Freemasons of Pennsylvania declined to give Bro. Franklin any Masonic funerary rites. You see, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania by the time of Franklin’s death had become Ancient Masonry. Alas, Benjamin Franklin was of Moderns stock.

The point of all this is to demonstrate that Freemasonry has a long history of courting the favor of civil government, and that the common association of Freemasonry with revolution (American or otherwise) is not as simple as some claim. Masonry’s professed obedience to civil authority is not cynicism, but is a desire to enjoy the freedom of association necessary for Masons to meet in their lodges. Some historians trace this to 1425, when Henry VI (age three!) and Parliament enacted the Statutes of Laborers. These post-Plague laws regulated both the wages to be paid laborers and merchants and, in the case of Masons in particular, their ability to meet together. Excerpted:

“First, whereas by the yearly Congregations and Confederacies made by Masons in their general Chapiters assembled, the good Course and Effect of the Statutes of Laborers be openly violated and broken, in Subversion of the Law, and to the Great Damage of all the Commons; our said Lord the King willing in this Case to provide a Remedy, by the Advice and Assent foresaid, and at the special Request of said Commons, hath ordained and established that such Chapiters and Congregations shall not be hereafter holden; and if any such be made, they that cause such Chapiters and Congregations to be assembled and holden, if they thereof be convicted, shall be judged for Felons; and that all other Masons that come to such Chapiters and Congregations, be punished by Imprisonment of their Bodies, and make Fine and Ransome at the King’s Will.”

I, for one, would not want to see the inside of a 15th century English “gaol.” This statute was repealed during the reign of Elizabeth I, but its legacy lived on as late as 1723, when the Rev. James Anderson authored Freemasonry’s first Book of Constitutions, which admonishes Masons:

“A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern’d in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates....”

Submitted for your approval.

What is Evangelicalism?

And How Does It Apply To
The "Christian Nation" Debate

Ok, time to shift gears away from the cluster f*** that was the past couple of posts. Instead, I want to shift the discussion to something I have been thinking a lot about as of late: what is Evangelicalism?

Now, at first glimpse this topic may appear to have nothing to do with this blog. After all, we do not dedicate this blog to discussing particular religious creeds/doctrines all that much. However, in light of some of the discussions we have had over the past 1 1/2 years regarding "Christianity" -- specifically what the definition of Christian orthodoxy is -- I think this might be useful in helping us dissect the arguments behind the "Christian Nation" thesis.

Webster's Dictionary defines "Evangelicalism" as:

1: of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels
2: protestant
3: emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual

Personally I take issue with these definitions NOT because I consider myself to be an Evangelical but rather because I am NOT an Evangelical. These definitions could relate to a number of religions that are clearly not unique to only Evangelicals. In addition, the 2nd definition makes the assumption that all Protestants are Evangelicals, and this is simply not true for a number of self-proclaimed Protestants who outright reject the "Evangelical" label.

So here, in my opinion, is a better definition:

A wide-reaching definitional “canopy” that covers a diverse number of Protestant groups.

I realize that this definiton is perhaps too simplistic and much more could go into developing a better definition of Evangelicalism. It's also worth noting that the term has meant different things at different points of American history. For example, during the Great Awakening, Evangelical religion/teaching was understood to mean "revivalistic" religion. Pretty much the same is true of the enthusiastic revivalist preachings that took place in the early years of the 1800s. At the beginning of the 20th century Evangelicalism essentially was seen as a pro-Christian but anti-fundamentalist faith. And in our days -- since roughly the 1970s -- Evangelicalism has come to mean -- at least for some people -- a group of politically conservative Christians who are active on social issues.

Now, it's not my intention to really debate the accuracy of these definitions. After all, they are just labels that were given over the course of history. I do, however, want to look at how Evangelicalism has grown to play such a prominent role in developing the "Christian Nation" thesis that they so vehemently defend.

One interesting way of understanding how and why Evangelicalism was able to interject itself so well into the "Christian Nation" debate -- and in addition was able to cross over so many Christian faiths with opposing views -- is to see modern Evangelicalism as more than just a religious set of beliefs, but as also an ECONOMIC venture. As Dr. Bart Barber states:

I suggest that, for the period from around 1970 through the present day, Evangelicalism is broadly conceivable as a primarily economic term. Evangelicalism is an industry containing Focus on the Family, Compassion International, Contemporary Christian Music, major Christian publishing houses, dating services like Equally Yoked, and myriad other business ventures.


As an economic market, Evangelicalism has done a lot of good. The variety of music, literature, film, and other media available to North American Christians is greater today than in days past largely because of Evangelicalism. For that I am thankful. Also, the likelihood of Christians obtaining justice for the unborn and others in our society is much greater because of the political influence that has come through the consolidation of Christian political influence under the banner of Evangelicalism.

However, Dr. Barber also acknowledges that this recent trend has produced some negative traits as well:

It is in the interest of Evangelicalism to pretend that theological concepts that have been important for thousands of years are no longer important. Because no individual denominational market is big enough to sustain modern Evangelicalism, the movement must de-emphasize denominational distinctives. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, Christians have not tended to divide in the past over minutiae. The nature of salvation, baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Trinity, the church—Evangelicalism must relegate these things to relative unimportance in order for the market to coalesce. So, it emphasizes other things—things that are important themselves—to the exclusion of these "divisive" issues. The measure of a doctrine's importance becomes not its scriptural emphasis or theological gravity, but its ability to unite the core market.

Now, I am not saying that the current "Christian Nation" debate is purely motivated by economic forces, nor do I believe that Evangelicalism's #1 goal is to make money as opposed to defending and preaching their beliefs. That would be pure nonsense. However, I do think that Dr. Barber's argument can help us understand how the "Christian Nation" movement has become so large and wide-spread amongst a number of different churches. Movements like the "Moral Majority" and others had to find a way to build bridges with a number of different Christian faiths. So did the modern "Christian Nation" movement.

I don't think there can be any doubt that Christian conservatism has become a very powerful political force in recent years. I think this can be attributed -- at least in part -- to the efforts of modern Evangelicalism to cross theological barriers and build upon common beliefs. I believe that the same can be said of the "Christian Nation" debate. In today's debate over the founders and religion, we can easily see Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, non-denominationals, etc. all embracing a common religious and historical heritage. Men like David Barton, D. James Kennedy and others have regularly been guests in Southern Baptists chapels and in Mormon chapels as well. Yet these churches still maintain certain divisions based on theological differences. How then could they argue that the Founders were "Christians?"

It's my argument that despite these differences in theology, Evangelicalism, in general, has helped to shape the way people define "Christianity." Though a Presbyterian may insist on the doctrine of predestination, he/she can still accept the idea of a non-denominational going to heaven, since they share a general concept of Christianity. Is the same standard being given to the founders? I think so. Men like Washington and Jefferson -- Anglican/Episcopalians by birth -- are accepted into the "Christian" fold, despite the obvious differences that exist between the Episcopal Church and the other "Evangelical" churches.

Now, I recognize that small divisions on a few theological issues does not necessarily mean that one Christian denomination condemns the other of heresy. However, it would be silly to simply dismiss these differences entirely. They exist for a reason, which is why we have so many faiths. For the "Christian Nation," this can be a blessing. Perhaps Washington never took communion, never prayed on his knees, adopted a more unitarian tone in his "God talk," and may have even rejected the traditional Christianity of his day, but he was, in a general sense, a Christian. Maybe Ben Franklin had doubts as to Christ's divinity, lived a life of questionable morals, etc. but he was, in this general sense, a Christian. Maybe Patrick Henry and James Madison differed greatly on their understanding and practice of religion, but both men were, in this general sense, Christian men. Maybe Thomas Paine hated priests and pastors and wrote scathing commentaries on religion, but he was, in this general sense, a Christian. In other words, the somewhat hazy definition behind Evangelical Christianity allows a lot of "wiggle room" for the founders. And it also affords the "Christian Nation" apologist plenty of leeway in claiming the founders as Christians.

So I guess my point is this: A large number of Protestant faiths, despite their differences on various theological points, are able to accept the founders as "Christians" thanks in part to the impact that Evangelicalism has had on creating a generalized template for what qualifies a person as a "Christian." Though the founders held to a wide range of beliefs, all are able to qualify for the "Christian" label in some way.

Perhaps this means that the term "Christian Nation" is too generalized and we need something a little more specific?