Friday, June 03, 2005

More on George Washington's Religion:

Interesting developments in the conversation on George Washington's religion at Southern Appeal. In particular, I referred to this link that reproduces many of the primary sources re: the controversy -- and yes, it was a big private controversy -- of George Washington's refusing to take communion at his church and the accusations of unbelief and deism by his Church's own Bishops, Rectors, Reverends that followed.

It's an interesting narrative, and I think it speaks something of the "nominal Christianity" that has always been with us in the Christian Churches (The Simpsons are a great example -- yes, both Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders are members of the same Church). Washington's wife appeared to be an orthodox Anglican-Episcopalian and Washington attended Church with her (how many religious wives drag their unbelieving husbands to Church every Sunday?). And "after the close of the sermon on sacramental Sundays, [Washington] had fallen into the habit of retiring from the church while his wife remained and communed."

This caught the attention of those in the Church, and like Reverend Lovejoy, one busybody minister -- Rev. James Abercrombie -- saw fit to chastise Washington (although not by name) at a sermon that Washington attended for his actions.

The good Reverend wrote:

"With respect to the inquiry you make I can only state the following facts; that, as pastor of the Episcopal church, observing that, on sacramental Sundays, Gen. Washington, immediately after the desk and pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation -- always leaving Mrs. Washington with the other communicants -- she invariably being one -- I considered it my duty in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations who uniformly turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord's Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President; and as such he received it."

Washington heard this, was pissed and, as one contemporary put it: "The discourse arrested the attention of Washington, and after that he never came to church with his wife on Communion Sunday."

For an interesting talk on Religion, Virtue, and Republicanism, see this lecture (which I attended) given at Princeton University by Michael McConnell, who was the topic of much discussion on Southern Appeal yesterday. In it McConnell discusses Washington's Farewell address where Washington discusses the connection between religion and morality and religion's salutary effect on the citizenry. McConnell notes that the best evidence reveals that Washington wasn't much of an orthodox believer and (at 21:40) McConnell actually calls Washington a blasphemer! (but doesn't elaborate). Thinking about what he meant, he could have been referring to either 1) Washington's connection with the Freemasons, or 2) more likely Washington's above discussed behavior at Church.


Karen said...

Dear Jon:

posted the following over at Leggett's blog re: the Haloscan debate:

Good going Jon *smile* and good discussion.

While it's "heartening" to think our Democracy (or our form of Republic) survived so many varied absolutist forms of beliefs in its' inception does not suggest a lack of understanding of the "history" is unwarranted or important to this debate.

As Jon has so aptly pointed out, it's the demagoguery of simplifying the Founder's Christian faith and purpose and intent to re-write their "Chritianity" and/or twist the terminology to suit the current debate which is the problem.

So many of these proponents are wrong on their history as their own Christianity values...and unwilling to admit of new understanding or corrections as Mr. Leggett - but I applaud you for doing so.

And a hat tip to you Jon Rowe for all your fine research. *wink*

Jonathan said...


As I said in the comments of an earlier post: I don't think our Founders were a bunch of Michael Newdows who would take "Under God" off our currency or out of the pledge.

And I don't think our Founders were a bunch of inspired evangelicals who wanted the United States to be a "Christian Nation" (in a public sense) and put God-Christ at the center of politics.

The truth lies somewhere in between.