The Religion of George Washington

Discussion in 'History Forum' started by Martin, Sep 16, 2006.

  1. Martin

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    Was George Washington a Christian, Deist, or somewhere in between?

    It seems that most historians believe that George Washington was a Deist...several Christian historians have taken exception to that.

    After studying Washington I do not believe he was a Deist. However, and this is very important, I don't believe we could classify him as a conservative, evangelical Christian. His religious beliefs seem to be very formal. Richard Brookhiser, I think rightly, describes Washington's public religious statements as "cool" (Founding Father, 145). Washington clearly had some sort of faith in God (Providence), and he certainly did not hold to a Deistic theology. Was Washington a born-again Christian? I really don't think we can know. However it is clear that Washington was a religious man. Whether or not that "religion" was reflective of true salvation only eternity will tell.

    That is about as middle of the road as it gets, I suppose.
     
  2. El_Guero

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    Wasn't he an Episcopalian?

     
  3. Martin

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    Yes he was. However I don't know that his association with that denomination solves any of the problems. One historian has written that George Washington, "was a Christian as a Virginia planter understood the term. He seems never to have taken communion; he stood to pray, instead of kneeling; and he did not invariably go to church on Sundays". So was Washington really a born-again Christian or, was he, a social Christian? It is hard to tell. Some, like David Barton, will say that he was certainly a born-again Christian. Others will say that he was a Deist. I will say that I don't think we can know.
     
  4. Not_hard_to_find

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    At least one of Washington's person guards, Joseph Timberlake, was a Baptist. Perhaps he had an opportunity to witness. Joseph is buried in t he Three Forks Baptist Church Cemetery in Hart county, KY.
     
  5. Jack Matthews

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    There is so much cultural difference between the Christianity that was practiced in America during Washington's day, and our current time, that I think it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether or not particular individuals were born-again Christians or not, especially based on doctrine. Doctrine doesn't tell you the spiritual condition of a person's soul and what was once looked upon to make that kind of judgement, especially in Washington's time, was superficial at best.

    The key criteria for us is repentance, belief in Christ as the divine Son of God in human form through faith in his power to save which comes from his resurrection from the dead, allowing the Holy Spirit to justify and sanctify our soul. As we know, people can repent of their sinful condition, but will still deal with sin for the rest of their lives. There isn't another human being capable of judging or discerning our spiritual condition from outside ourselves. It gets complicated when you try to discern, from the words that were left behind, whether someone actually received Christ at some point in their life.

    Washington's church going habits, when he was at Mt. Vernon, were affected by the fact that it is an 11 mile ride by carriage from the plantation to Christ Church in Alexandria, where he was a member. Christ Church was part of the Church of England for most of Washington's life. The original sanctuary, with the Washington family pew designated, is still in use. According to the historical documents of the church, and the information provided to me when I visited there, Washington would have certainly been exposed to the repentance-forgiveness-justification by faith in Christ teaching on many occasions. Whether he personally responded to that probably cannot be known.

    I would say that, in the culture and custom of his day, there is evidence Washington did have a changed heart. Although I would consider it sinful to own slaves, Washington treated his slaves with as high a degree of humanity as any slaveowner of his day, ignoring prohibitions about teaching them to read, and emancipating those he owned personally in his will.
     
  6. LeBuick

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    Need we also say he was a Mason???
     
  7. Ralph III

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    He was a very personal Christian, definitely not a Deist. Check into Robert Novaks "Washington's God", as it is an excellent book and lays to rest some questions.

    Where the Masons are concerned as LeBuick brought up. Many people, including Clergy, joined the Masons simply because of the good deeds they did in each community. The overwhelming majority of Masons were Protestants, whom promoted freedom of conscience and accepted the Bible, as the authority for revealed truth. Washington's induction prayer concluded


    That organization underwent a negative change at the turn of the century and was nothing as Washington and others had joined. An immigrant Pastor wrote Washington with concerns as he had seen in Europe.

    Washington replied:
    http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toc...&division=div1 Photo copies available, Library of Congress.

    He soon wrote the Reverend back to clarify a little. As he did not doubt there was some sort of movement taking place, only he did not believe it was organized.
    http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toc...&division=div1 Photo copies available at Library of Congress.

    In contrast: Washington was know to attend Church twice in a given day. I have never heard of someone claiming he did not attend Sunday Church, as original poster noted. In fact, he would traverse with his family 3 hrs for worship services on Sunday. Or even further away to another Church, which he supported in addition, as often a local Pastor was not available. He also served as a vestryman for 15 years within his Church.


    Just to note, and correct a few things.


    Take care, Ralph:jesus:
     
    #7 Ralph III, Sep 17, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 17, 2006
  8. Jack Matthews

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    Being a Mason isn't a determining factor in salvation. Becoming a Christian involves personal repentance from sin, not individual sin, but the sin nature. In and of itself, however, repentance only leads to salvation. It does not produce it. Salvation comes when we are made righteous in order to have a relationship with God and that is done not of ourselves, but through the blood of Christ. We are clothed with, or put on, Christ's righteousness in order to be made right with God. Our own righteousness has no power in this, so essentially, whether we join the Masons or the Moonies or the Mormons after we are saved does not affect our eternal condition. We have already been clothed by Christ's righteousness, and whether we ever get it right doctrinally or practically makes a difference only in what we accomplish as a Christian in this life, not eternity.

    I believe there is enough evidence to suggest that Washington was in a position to have heard and understood the Biblical teaching related to receiving Christ in order to have a personal relationship with God. Whether or not he, or any other human being on the face of this earth, has done that or not is not discernable without their personal testimony to that effect. I'm not aware that Washington left behind words which would have confirmed his salvation, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a Christian.
     
  9. Ralph III

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    Hello Jack Mathews.

    I agree with what you have said and simply sought to clarify with his Masonic involvement. As that aspect is usually blown well out of proportion with him and others. Many, often using it simply to discredit him and others.

    This has already been addressed in other threads but I meant to contrast that with his Church involvement. Which I have now correctly done.


    In addition.

    He spend quite a bit of time conversing with Churches around the nation, as Pastors would send him copies of written sermons. He replied with many excellent and Christian inspiring letters.
    He sent a letter to an Indian Chief encouraging them to learn our ways and "especially" the teachings of "Jesus Christ".
    During the war, he often and strongly encouraged his troops to attend their worship services. As the "highest" call or "duty" of a patriot was "Christianity".
    His granddaughter made note of his Christian faith to an early biographer.

    All of these things give you an excellent picture of his sincere faith.


    Anyhow, take care.


    :sleeping_2:
     
    #9 Ralph III, Sep 17, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 17, 2006
  10. Jim1999

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    All I have read about George Washington is that he was a warm deist, seldom attended church, even though his wife attended church every Sunday. Often when Washington did attend, he left early and had to send his carriage back to pick up his wife. There is no actual record of his writing anything about the Christian religion. In fact, he did not want to offend many other churches, baptists, methodists, etc, so he avoided saying anything. He was, however, Anglican all his life.

    As to masonry, it encourages religious involvement and does not deny it. It expresses an absolute belief in a Supreme Being. It really doesn't prover anything.

    I think many have a strong desire that Washington be a Christian, and therefore, it is so regardless of the historical facts. Many men of his time spoke of religion in a general sense whether they believed or not.

    Cheers,

    Jim
     
  11. Jack Matthews

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    You make some good points here, Jim. What most people do not understand is that America in Washington's day was not a place that was over-run by Christianity or where there were churches on every corner. In 1789, when the constitution was adopted and Washington was elected President, Virginia and Pennsylvania shared the distinction of having the largest percentages of their population listed as church members; 17 and 18 percent, respectively. Most of the other colonies had less than 10 percent, with Georgia at around 5 percent. Once the practice of using political pressure of the state church to coerce membership was abandoned, the figures went down quite rapidly.

    There were a lot of people who practiced their Christian faith outside of regular church attendance. Washington could well have been one of those people. The culture that we identify today as that of "conservative evangelical" or even fundamentalist, did not exist.
     
  12. Jim1999

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    Jack, Canada was much the same even though it had a state church; Anglican or Church of England. I guess there were a lot of nominal Christians, much like to-day.

    We get a false impression by the pilgrims who left England because of religious persecution, but even the Mayflower ship carried many non-believers or riders, who claimed the church, but preferred tea to communion.

    One of the earliest Baptist Churches in Canada were the Black churches of the Maritimes, and the first church in Toronto was a Black Baptist Church, even before the Church of England was established there.

    Our founding Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald was a drunkard, but the establishment of Canada included a verse from the Psalms,,,,,and "under God"....Look at the National Anthem....."God keep our land..........."

    I just don't think we should put a whole lot of stock in history, as much as what we should be doing to-day...preach the word!

    Cheers,

    Jim
     
  13. thjplgvp

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    Jim I would be interested in seeing your source for your observations. I also have Novak's 'Washington's God' which is quite full of quotes and excerpts from literature which would disagree with your conclusions. For example,

    "Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly implore his protection and favor…

    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, …

    To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue… "

    Excerpts from Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation October 3rd 1789

    Thjplgvp
     
  14. Jim1999

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    Thj,,,,,,,,,,,,,That is all common language of religionists of the period. Common literature is filled with the same terminology, even Unitarians.

    Sorry, I don't have one source. Just readings over the years and my memory.

    Cheers,

    Jim
     
  15. Revmitchell

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    http://www.pbs.org/georgewashington/classroom/religious_liberty3.html
     
  16. Ralph III

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    Jim 1999 you are really stuck on this Deist, or nominal Christian, thing with the Founding Fathers of this nation, aren't you? Many of your earlier posts have already been answered and corrected. Anyhow.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A) IN REGARDS TO WASHINGTON:

    He conversed often with Pastors from around the nation as they sent him copies of their sermons. Which he collected and highly appreciated. An example of his replies.

    An example of General orders during the war:

    A letter to the Delaware Chiefs:
    An example from within Office.
    It is true Washington was private with his faith but such was more so due to his faith. As noted by his step-granddaughter, Eleanor P. Curtis.
    Jesus says in Matt 6:6 "but you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly".




    B) WITH OTHER FOUNDING FATHERS:

    As I understand, there are only a few Founding Fathers who would have ever fallen into a Deist category. Jefferson, Payne, and Franklin(early on). MOST DEFINITELY NOT WASHINGTON.

    This is the FACT:

    Thomas Payne wrote "Age of Reason" which exalted Deism and attacked Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity. Most every Founding Father vehemently scourged him for it! He was no atheist but his book was scorned as the "atheist bible". Payne died a complete outcast and was refused burial within a cemetery. Here are a few quotes from some Founders in regards.



    others:
    etc.


    Take care all, :wavey:
     
    #16 Ralph III, Sep 19, 2006
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  17. Martin

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    No Eternal Truth To Defend

    ==The fact that several of the founders were deists is not refutable. George Washington's ""personal"" religious beliefs are, at best, uncertain. His public statements do not give certain indication. Why not? He was a Virginia Planter, he was a church man, but he was by no means evangelical. Was he a true Christian? We can't know. I am sorry but that is the best we can do.

    ==Ben Franklin supported the ministry of George Whitefield but that does not mean that Franklin was a Christian. Thomas Jefferson also spoke with pastors (etc) but that does not make him a Christian. The statement you quoted, probably pulled from the book "Washington's God", does not prove Washington was a Christian.


    ==Yes Washington was private on this matters. His public statements on religion did not indicate that he was a Christian.

    On this issue you need to go with the full historical evidence. There is no Christian doctrine at stake here, no eternal truth to defend. This is not a Biblical issue so we don't need to be doctrinally dogmatic. If Washington was not a Christian that does not affect me, or you, one bit. So what should we do? Should we paint a one-sided picture that makes it look like Washington was a Christian, a Deist, an atheist? Certainly not. We should seek to find out what Washington (and the other founders) actually believed even if we end up discovering that they may not be, in their beliefs, what we hoped they were. Certainly some of them were Christians but others were not. Just because Washington was a fine man and president, and just because he used religious language, does not mean he was a born-again Christian. Certainly Washington was much more friendly to Christianity than Jefferson was and Washington may very well have been a Christian. However that is something only eternity will tell. From where I am sitting there is no solid historical evidence to show that Washington himself was a true, born again Christian.
     
  18. Tom Butler

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    Here's an interesting article:

    There have been 43 Presidents of the United States and of these it is readily admitted that four were Baptists: Warren Harding, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Yet few realize that George Washington became a Baptist during the Revolutionary War. This occurred around 1781. Washington approached John Gano, a chaplain in the Colonial army and the pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York City and reportedly said, "I have heard you preach and have been investigating the Scriptures, and I believe immersion to be the baptism taught in the Word of God, and I demand baptism at your hands. I do not wish any parade made, or the army called out, but simply a quiet administration of the ordinance." Gano baptized Washington in the Potomac River by moonlight in the presence of forty-two witnesses. While this story is mocked by some, in 1889, historian Lemuel Call Barnes gathered numerous testimonies from Gano’s descendants and the descendants of the forty-two witnesses confirming the story in a 180-page manuscript "Was General George Washington Baptized by Chaplain John Gano?" Further proof of the account is that today in the historical room of the First Baptist Church of New York City there is a painting of John Gano baptizing George Washington.

    (Further information on this subject is found in the booklet "[SIZE=+0][FONT=Arial,Book]PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON - A Baptist by Ben M. Bogard & Bobby L. Sparks[/FONT] " This book was originally published in 1925 by Bogard, and was republished in 1994 by Sparks[/SIZE]
     
  19. Tom Butler

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    Here's another:

    "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)

    Both these articles were found on the following Yahoo group:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LandmarkSouthernBaptist/

    Search for George Washington and these articles will come up.
     
  20. Martin

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    All of the history on Washington I have read state, very clearly, that Washington as an Episcopalian all his life. In fact I have never seen any evidence, whatsoever, that would indicate the Washington "officially" changed his Church association. While I am not familiar with the source, or story, you quoted it does not sound historical. It sounds more like wishful thinking on the part of the writer.
     

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