George Washington's God

Discussion in 'History Forum' started by Martin, Feb 19, 2007.

  1. Martin

    Martin
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    In his blog today, Dr Al Mohler (pres. SBTS) has addressed the issue of the faith of George Washington. Some of what he says may surprise those who would expect Mohler to say, as some have, "Washington was an evangelical, born again, believer in the Lord Jesus Christ". Mohler does not say that. Here is some of what he does say:

    "The prevailing secular wisdom of recent decades held that Washington was a Deist. While the 'Father of the Nation' did use rather Deistic-sounding phrases and expressions, Washington clearly believed in a God who ruled directly in the affairs of nations -- something the god of the Deists would not (or could not) do...We are wise to avoid the rush to remake George Washington in our own image, whether ardent secularist or fervent evangelical Christian. Washington, like all of us, was a man of his times. His expressions of Christian belief must be placed within the context of his Anglican experience in Virginia -- a tradition not given to flowery expressions of personal belief. This much is clear: Washington was no secularist, nor was he what we would now describe as an Evangelical believer. Most likely, he was a traditional Anglican believer whose trust in divine providence shaped every moment of his illustrious life. What George Washington believed about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not fully clear. That Washington believed in a God who ruled over the nations and intervened in human affairs is clear -- and Washington was confident that God favored the cause of justice and liberty." -SOURCE

    Mohler also has links to articles found in USA TODAY and George Mason U's History News Network. Whether you agree with the premise, or conclusion, of either article or not they provide for interesting reading. There is also a book out called "George Washington's Sacred Fire". I am putting that on my "wish" list but it will be a while before I can get around to reading it. This is because I have a stack of books on my desk waiting for me and that is on top of reading/research I am having to do for graduate school. But I really do wish to read that book even if I may not agree with all of it's conclusions.

    The author of the book wrote the article at HNN (see above) and does state;

    "While some of the testimony for Washington’s faith falls in the arena of unsupportable legend, there is a temptation simply to dismiss all evidence of his faith by assuming that there is only hagiographical and apocryphal testimony to support it. So self-evident did Washington’s Christian faith seem to prior generations, that they only slightly felt the need to establish a scholarly case. Thus when this earlier case for Washington’s Christian faith was examined under the microscope of serious scholarship, it was unable to withstand the assault.
    However, that did not mean there was no evidence for the claim of a strong faith life in Washington. Rather, it meant that the case had to be built by a careful return to original sources and historically sound arguments. Thus there has been a significant need to reassess this whole debate by an in depth analysis of the relevant data. That, of course, is what I have sought to do in George Washington’s Sacred Fire. It has simply been too easy for all parties in this debate to rely on secondary sources. Ultimately, Washington’s own words and his own actions in his own context establish the truth about his own faith."

    As for my own position, as I have stated in other posts, I believe that Washington was most likely not a full blown Deist. However I also doubt that Washington was an evangelical Christian. I even go so far as to say that we can't know if Washington was actually saved (born again) or not since, as far as I know, he never said. I believe Washington was at least a nominal Christian who had some deistic flavors in his thinking. How far those flavors went, well, I don't think we will know until eternity.
     
  2. johnk48

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  3. Tom Butler

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    I stole the following article from Ben Stratton's Landmark Southern Baptist website:

    George Washington’s Baptism
    By Charles W. Koller

    "Warmly cherished among the records of the venerable First Baptist Church of New York City is the account of the baptism of George Washington. The fact that the first president of the United States was baptized by immersion, by the first pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York City, has been obscured by the fact that his previous membership in a church in Alexandria, Virginia, was never disturbed.
    Among the noble qualities of the "Father of our Country", there is none that we recall with deeper gratitude than his sincere piety. Born of a godly mother, christened and dedicated in infancy and reared in a godly home, he "Feared the Lord from his youth." As a man he never forsook his private devotions or public worship, but even held services himself while in the army.
    Among the many expressions of the faith of George Washington, none glows with brighter luster than his request for baptism. The war was over, the peace treaty had been signed, and General Washington was in a camp at Newburg, on the Hudson, where the signing of the treaty was celebrated. John Gano, pastor of First Baptist Church of New York City, who had served as chaplain through the war, was still with the troops expounding the Word of God. The General had heard him preach, and had been searching the Scriptures. Approaching the chaplain, he requested baptism as taught and practiced in the Scriptures. The baptism took place quietly and simply in the Hudson River with only forty-two witnesses. But the impact of that testimony is still being felt."


    (The above article was written by Charles W. Koller, president of the Northern Baptist Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. It was published in "The Western Recorder", the Southern Baptist newsletter in Kentucky on March 6, 1958)


     
  4. Martin

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    I have not done any real research into Washington's Baptist Baptism however I have reason to doubt it's historical accuracy. Washington was a Anglican, not a Baptist, and that never changed. I believe, and I will have to check on this, that Novak discounts this theory in his book "Washington's God". I will look further into this when I get a chance to be sure.
     
  5. Joseph M. Smith

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    For what it may be worth, this is what the website of First Baptist Church of New York says; what documentation they have is not apparent. There may be some record, or it may be oral tradition.

    "In 1762 the church was formally constituted as “The First Baptist Church in the City of New York” and John Gano was called to be its first pastor. The church grew from 27 to over 200 members in only three years. Gano’s ministry was interrupted by the Revolutionary War, during which he served as Chaplain to General George Washington and had the honor of baptizing him. Returning from the war, Gano regathered his scattered flock and restored the building. Later, he helped found Brown University."

    The question of Washington's theology must, I think, be reviewed in the context of 18th century fashions and of the prevailing rationalism of the time. Calling God "Providence" (as in the city in Rhode Island) could be nothing more than a circumlocution used in that day to avoid the appearance of blasphemy. And/or it can also be a reference to the rationalism that not only led to Deism, but also heavily informed Baptist theology at that time.
     
  6. rsr

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    You oght to give it back, Tom.

    I have been attempting for some time to find documentation for Washington's baptism by John Gano. There is more than one version of the story — the event is variously placed in the Potomac, in the Hudson and at Valley Forge — as well as different accounts of the famous painting, which apparently was commissioned by an Episcopal minister int he early 1900s. As best as I can tell, a painting of the event was in a church in Asbury Park, N.J., before being donated to the John Gano Chapel at William Jewell College in Missouri.

    The various accounts contain several details, including that the witnesses were sworn to secrecy and that Washington did not become a Baptist.

    I find it interesting that neither David Benedict, Thomas Armitage nor John Christian mentions the baptism story, and other 19th century biographical accounts also omit it. I am not aware that the story is in Gano's memoirs.

    It appears that the story gained wide circulation in the 20th century, and not generally before. On the basis of what I know, I would consider it of doubtful provenance.
     
  7. LadyEagle

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    More on George Washington's baptism:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,744297,00.html
     

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