Is America a Christian Nation?
Faith of Our Founding Fathers
There is no question virtually all of Americas’ Founding Fathers held a Christian, biblical world view. How do we know this? All one has to do is look at their church membership and correspondence.
Their denominational affiliations were a matter of public record. Among the delegates were 28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics, 1 unknown, and only 3 deists…Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin. And during those days church membership demanded a sworn public confession of biblical faith.
This is not to say there were not a few who were not confirmed Christians. There were, but their numbers were decidedly in the minority. However, in any case, this is an illuminating tally. It proves members of the Constitutional Convention, the most influential group of men shaping our nation, were almost all Christians, a full 93%. The records show 70% were Calvinists which included the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and the Dutch Reformed… considered by some to be the most extreme and inflexible form of Christianity.
The question then arises, is Christianity the official, doctrinal religion of this country? Of course not, the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment strictly prohibits it. However, if we mean was our country founded on Biblical principles by Christian men having a deep commitment to the Scriptures, the answer is yes. A majority of Americans held a common set of values which were principally biblical. The founding principles of the Republic were clearly informed by biblical truth.
What does this have to do with anything today?" It must have something to do with today’s society. The question has inflamed many debates and protests. Within limits, our Constitution dictates, the majority rules. That's the way our government works. But just because Christians were here first doesn’t give them extra political influence in any debate on public policy.
In any event, privilege of citizenship in America remains the same for all, despite ones’ religious beliefs. Even Christians who wrote the rules leveled the field for everyone, every ideology and point of view.
Although, in writing the First Amendment and the non-establishment clause, the current concept of separation of church and state was not what they had in mind. The idea the country was to be completely secular and not influenced at all by religious values was completely foreign. Not just to the Founders, but to the first 150 years of American political thought. Christian thought and values were generally accepted and encouraged in education and expression.
Anyone doubting this view simply needs to read Lincoln's second inaugural address, some of which is etched into the northern wall of the Lincoln Memorial. It contains no less than three or four biblical references. The address included these immortal words: “Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
In the speech’s closing, carved in the walls of the Memorial, Lincoln set a pattern for the nation’s Reconstruction.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Additionally, Lincolns Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1863 begins this way: "It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon. And to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord."
There were many others: George Washington, Samuel Adams, James Madison, John Witherspoon, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams, Patrick Henry and even Thomas Jefferson. Their personal letters, biographies, and public statements, over flow with quotations showing these men had political ideals richly influenced by Christianity.
Even the 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin made a call to prayer on June 28, 1787, in a stalled Convention. James Madison recorded the event in his journals. Franklin's address had no less than four direct references to Scripture.
Franklin stated in part: “…And have we forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
Three of the four major framers of the Constitution, Franklin, Washington and Madison, were confirmed Christians. But skeptics may ask: What about Thomas Jefferson? True, his signature isn’t found at the end of the Constitution, but his spiritual beliefs are found throughout the entire document.
Jefferson was committed to a belief in natural rights, including the self-evident truth all men are created equal. The statesman was a distinctly selective individualistic when it came to religion. He pored over New Testament scripture to find those supporting his views.
The Declaration of Independence contains at least four references to God. Jefferson, at times could be an enigma. In his Second Inaugural Address he asked for prayers to Israel's God on his behalf. At other times he seemed to be distanced from organized Christianity, especially Calvinism.
It's clear that Thomas Jefferson was no overly zealous evangelist, but neither was he an atheist. He was more Unitarian than either deist or Christian.
The most important factor regarding the faith of Thomas Jefferson, or any of our Founding Fathers, isn't whether or not they believed in Jesus Christ. The debate over our religious heritage isn’t about that, but rather what the dominant convictions were which constituted the structuring of America.
In Defending the Declaration, legal historian Gary Amos writes: "Jefferson is a notable example of how a man can be influenced by biblical ideas and Christian principles even though he never confessed Jesus Christ as Lord in the evangelical sense."
We can draw two conclusions from these facts which show the relationship between religion and government in America. First, Christianity was the dominant moral and intellectual influence shaping our nation from the beginning. Christian influence was the material from which the tapestry of our society was woven. Therefore, the present concept of a wall of separation hardly seems historically validated.
In George Washington's Farewell Speech, September 19, 1796, a general sentiment was characteristically present: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports....And let us indulge with caution the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”