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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Was George Washington a Christian?

The more I investigate and read the account of witnesses claiming George Washington was a Christian, the more my own view is questioned. By a careful examination of Washington's words, and the context of those words, it is evident his philosophical language, which all Christians used in reference to God, no doubt, referred to Jesus Christ. Granted, this is not an admission of faith, but, neither does it exempt the label of Christian.

Using proper English Comprehension, the key to Washington's letter to the Delaware Chiefs is not the Indians' arts and ways of life, but our ways of life, showing Jesus Christ's Religion is to be above everything else in our culture; again, Washington includes himself in "our" arts and ways of life:

"You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it."
Head Quarters, Middle Brook, May 12, 1779.,+Vol.+15:+SPEECH+TO+THE+DELAWARE+CHIEFS&query=jesus+christ&id=gw150049

So George Washington never referred to God in Christian terms? Quite the contrary; he mentioned Jesus Christ to the Delaware Chiefs, and here, in 1789:

"And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions."
Thanksgiving Proclamation, October 3rd, 1789

Who pardons transgressions and is The Lord? Jesus Christ is the only answer. This also shows his prayers and supplications were to Jesus, not to a deist, or theist god.

"I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."
Washington's Farewell to the Army, June 8th, 1783

Without a doubt, George Washington is referring to Jesus Christ, as these Characteristicks refer only to Him. He declares, including himself, our country's religion is Christianity, whose imitation every nation should imitate.

And again, here, Washington says Revelation, which is God's will for mankind, is referring to the Bible, supported by Webster's definition of the word. Notice, God's revelation is superior to all human knowledge, including man's reason, which can only be useful and relevant if it is written down:

"[t]he Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society."

There is evidence, among other reports, Washington took communion, here is one testimony in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

The Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, an ordained Presbyterian minister, graduate of Princeton with a degree from Dickinson College. Mr. Snowden was born in Philadelphia January 17, 1770 and died November 12, 1851. His writings cover a period from youth to 1846. In his records may be found these observations, in Mr. Snowden's own handwriting:

Mr. Snowden, as if to emphasize the piety of Washington sets forth in his records that he often saw Washington, that he accompanied seventy other clergymen to visit him on the anniversary of his birth February 22, 1792. Then Mr. Snowden adds:

"When the army lay at Morristown, the Rev. Dr. Jones, administered the sacrament of ye Lord's supper. Washington came forward at ye head of all his officers and took his seat at ye 1st table, & took of ye bread and wine, the Symbols of Christ's broken body and shed blood, to do this in remembrance of ye L J C & thus professed himself a Christian & a disciple of the blessed Jesus."

Did Washington fake communion, and this testimony false? Is the Valley Forge Prayer an accurate account? I know there are equally other testimonies rejecting Washington's faith, but, without his words rejecting Christianity, it's difficult to label him a theist. David Barton may be on safe ground claiming Washington a Christian. The claims of Washington's Grand daughter Nelly Custis-Lewis, John Marshall, Abiel Holmes, or Jared Sparks may only refer to his Christian character, not his faith in Christian Orthodoxy, which is mandatory for salvation; Marshall was a unitarian until the latter part of his life.

If Snowden's testimony is true, I have no problem with people claiming Washington a Christian, for me, I am still undecided.


Hercules Mulligan said...

Hi OFT. Here is the link you requested. It covers more than Snowden's journal, but it does try to debunk his testimony.

One of the reasons the author of this article believes that Snowden was, at best, embellishing the story, was that Snowden wrote down this memory several years after the event supposedly took place. Therefore, it is assumed that Snowden may have gotten some details wrong.

To this objection I answer that first of all, I would think that one would not need a pen and paper with you in order to accurately remember such a powerful thing. Obviously, Pott's testimony made a great impression upon Rev. Snowden, and therefore probably made it easy for him to remember the details. But let's say that Snowden did get some details muddled over the years ... those details that got muddled wouldn't include the fact that Washington was praying! Because that was the whole reason for writing the story! And Snowden was not the only one who said that he knew Washington prayed. According to GW's adopted grandson, Washington's military staff knew that Washington did spend time each day in private prayer. A military officer (whose account is reprinted in William Johnson's George Washington: The Christian), he was told by Col. Alexander Hamilton that this was true. Furthermore, according to what I heard on an interview with Peter A. Lillback (who wrote the enormous George Washington's Sacred Fire), Mrs. Alexander Hamilton left a memorial to her children that Washington went to Trinity Church and took communion upon becoming President, and that during the War for Independence, prayed for the American cause. I have yet to see Mrs. Hamilton's words for myself, but I know that she did indeed write such a testimony, because it is preserved at Columbia University.

Also, here is a link about Snowden's diary as well. It speaks of Snowden's own observations of Washington.

Our Founding Truth said...

Hey Herc,

I read some of the details that Snowden got mixed up, are secondary, there is no internal contradictions, but, I wonder how many years after did he write it.

That link says it was common knowledge Washington used to go to solitary places, it seems obvious to pray.

Yeah, Unless I see some serious problems with the account, not just names mixed up, I believe the account is genuine.

It's up to the naysayers to refute it.


Rick A. said...

Honestly it does not matter. If Washington was an atheist it would be ok. That's what religious nut-jobs don't and will never understand.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Rick A.,

I know this is not my blog, so I hope that OFT does not mind me answering your statement.

First of all, I think that you are the one with the misunderstanding. The religious beliefs of our Founders DO matter. Why? Because religious beliefs form the basis of all other beliefs, including political ones. Our Founding Fathers established this nation on a unique political foundation; therefore, in order to understand their unique political beliefs, we must understand the religious beliefs that formed the foundation of them.

You see, something that many people in America today don't seem to understand is that religious beliefs are not unrelated to real life, or to how people form belief systems.

For example, if Washington was an atheist, his atheism would have led him to hold some very different political views than if he were a Christian. If Washington was an atheist, he would have believed that law (morality, order, and justice) are decided completely by human reasoning, since there would be no being superior to humankind who would make laws that all men must live by. Man, being the most advanced being (according to atheism) would have to make up his own standards of right and wrong. What kind of basis for a "government of law, and not of man" is that? If the only source of law is man, than government by law, instead of government by man, is absolutely impossible.

And yet if Washington was a Christian, than he would have to believe two things as a consequence of that:

(1) there is a Creator, God, to whom we are all accountable; we don't possess the ultimate authority to declare right and wrong -- HE does; and

(2) He has revealed His laws to us in 2 forms -- through nature, which we discover with our rational faculties, which He created in us, and through the Holy Bible, His inspired word. Because of the Bible, and the historical, scientific, rational, archaeological, and cryptological evidence in its favor, God has made sure that man need not doubt what is right and wrong.

Because of this Christian worldview, the political concept that only a government of law (and not a government of man) is just, is possible. The Founders obviously embraced this principle, even though a few were probably not individually born again.

Oh and by the way, you can throw away your rude comment about Christians being a bunch of "nut-jobs." Apparently, atheists have just as much interest in proving Washington as something other than Christian, just as much as Christians do in claiming that Washington was a Christian. Or at least for my part, atheists/unbelievers have even more interest in proving Washington as one of them than I have in proving Washington as a Christian, because I am not willing to purposefully bend or hide facts to suite my opinion. I need not.

Wim Wallace said...

There is no doubt of Washington as being a Christian man both in action and belief. His own adopted daughter described him as such in all terms Christian. Why are we relying on historian suppositions and analysis rather than eye witnesses own words? The answer is that there is a movement to reclass our founding fathers as something other than Christian men of devout faith. Washington was just one of many. Use eye witness accounts and not historian interpretations of documents.