Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dave Welch Misses on Inaugural Prayers:

Sometimes I think we criticize David Barton too much. However, if you want a good example of why we keep hammering him, see Dave Welch's latest article from WorldNetDaily. In it he repeats one of Barton's phony, "unconfirmed" quotations. This one attributed to Patrick Henry:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here."

One reason why these quotations refuse to die, I think, is because they are so on point to the "Christian Nation" argument. Take them away and the Christian Nation claim practically collapses.

The overall context of Welch's post is that he disagreed with having an openly gay Christian Bishop, Gene Robinson, give a prayer at the Inaugural. He also balked at Robinson's objection to making the prayer too exclusively "Christian," and the intimation that public prayers should be inclusive. The following briefly captures Welch's argument:

Given the fact that Christianity has historically been recognized as the majority religion in the United States since our founding, it should not shock the good bishop that the inaugural prayers reflect that reality. Even given the increase of religious plurality and other religions in recent years, Christianity still receives the adherence of over 75 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Since George Washington spontaneously added, "So help me, God," to the oath of the president in his first inauguration, recognition of our allegiance to, dependence upon and desire for blessings by God have been integral to the ceremony. Since the modern recording of inaugural prayers in 1937, all clergy have been Protestant or Catholic Christians, with eight rabbis participating through those years to recognize the deep, historic connection of those faiths.

I'll ignore the assertion of the historically unsubstantiated fact that "Washington spontaneously added, 'So help me, God,' to the oath of the president in his first inauguration," as that is the territory of my co-blogger at American Creation, Ray Soller. But yes, around 80% of Americans identify as "Christians" today as did 98% during the Founding era. Today that includes men like Gene Robinson and Obama himself. And during the Founding era it included men like Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, a figure Welch appealed to in an earlier article, a theological unitarian, which according to Welch's strict standards for "Christianity," arguably disqualifies Mayhew from the "Christian" label.

Further if you examine the public God talk of America's first 4 Presidents, you see a systematic effort at generic, philosophical inclusive titles for God. They may have been compatible with orthodox Christianity, but were also compatible with all sorts of non-Christian theological systems. Even Justice Scalia in his dissent in the most recent Supreme Ten Commandments case caught this nuance when he wrote:

All of the actions of Washington and the First Congress upon which I have relied, virtually all Thanksgiving Proclamations throughout our history, and all the other examples of our Government’s favoring religion that I have cited, have invoked God, but not Jesus Christ.

Scalia therefore concludes: “This is not necessarily the Christian God (though if it were, one would expect Christ regularly to be invoked, which He is not)”....

This is what American Civil Religion is all about: Invoking a Providence, but doing our best to make such a concept as inclusive as possible in a religiously pluralistic society. The pluralism of the Founding era was not quite the pluralism of today (the Unitarians and liberal Christian Churches weren't marrying same sex couples). However, make no mistake, America was founded to be a religiously pluralistic nation, with all of those different "factions" -- some Christian, some not, and some debatable as to whether the term "Christian" is properly applied to them at all -- being united in an overriding undefined "Providence." That, not the phony quotation of Patrick Henry that Welch recites as capstone to his argument, is what America's religious Foundations are all about.

And if one's understanding of "Christianity" is theologically orthodox, holds Christ the only way to God, and other non-Christian (or even non-Trinitarian) religions to be "false," then the American Founding's concept of "publick religion" will not speak to you, and you should take such with a grain of salt and not rely on it in positing your worldview of "spiritual discernment."

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