Did the American forefather’s establish an explicitly Christian nation? This is the question I’ve begun tackling in my series on “The Roots of American Christian Exceptionalism.”

The proponents of such a revisionist history use only cherry picked items from history to promote a present and modern political agenda: Rushdoony and Hall came out of a reaction to the New Deal under Roosevelt. Rosalie Slater came out of a reaction to the JFK and Cold War era. [It is important to remember that the words “…under God…” were not a part of the original Pledge of Allegiance, but were added in 1954 as a reaction to the “godless communists” to prove America was a “religious nation”.) see Geoffrey Nunberg, “(Next) Nation Under God’, Phrase Idiom” Language Log and “A New Birth of Freedom” sermon attended by President Truman by Dr. George M. Docherty, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1954.) Marshall and Manuel came out of the Carter and era. Is it any wonder the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, James DobsonTim LaHaye and Gary DeMar caught their stride during the Clinton era? Is it any surprise that the radical rhetoric of Christian Exceptionalism is turned up to 11 when any left-leaning politician is elected to the American presidency? What else would give a platform to presidential contenders such as Michelle Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry–all Christian Dominionists/ Reconstructionist?

Selective Memory

American Christian Exceptionalism often starts with an indoctrination of children. Among the pioneers of this movement are Verna M. Hall and Rosalie J. Slater, associates and friends of RJ Rushdoony. Slater’s “A Teachers Guide for Christian History”, explains this indoctrination as a means towards (re)establishing America as a Christian Nation in order that it might fulfill its God-given destiny: “A nation which is humble enough to begin with its children in the constructing of its foundations for liberty may once again have the opportunity to lead nations to Christ.” 

Jesus with Eve & Adan“Red Book” authors Rosalie J. Slater and Verna M. Hall founded “The Foundation for American Christian Education” which produced the “Principle Approach” method of education used by many Christian schools. Rushdoony was foundational in the Creationism movement as well as the Christian homeschooling movement, even testifying in several landmark cases. Although her textbook, Christian History of the Constitution is a compilation of primary source documents it has a crucial defect: it never does reach the time of the Constitutional Convention (or the years following). She never records any of the early founding father’s letters and documents reflecting on the subject of the Constitution and rejects evidence that the Constitution never was founding an explicitly Christian nation.

It seems revisionary history does not discriminate either side of the political spectrum, when trying to establish a “Christian Nation” mythology. According to the website of the Foundation for American Christian Education, founded by “Red book” authors Slater and Hall, it states “When the United States was founded, she stood on the shoulders of centuries of devoted, brave yet ordinary men and women who loved the God of the Bible and understood how to nurture one of His greatest conditional blessings to mankind, liberty. The peace, security, prosperity, integrity, and freedom that has long- time been the hallmark of the United States are all results of her distinctively Christian roots” — even despite America’s history of violence, oppression of minority classes, sexism, and racism.

For instance, Lindsay Glauner, in The Need for Accountability and Reparation: 1830-1976the United States Government’s Role in the Promotion, Implementation, and Execution of the Crime of Genocide Against Native Americans, (2002) she states

“On September 8, 2000, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) formally apologized for the agency’s participation in the “ethnic cleansing” of Western tribes. From the forced relocation and assimilation of the “savage” to the white man’s way of life to the forced sterilization of Native Americans, the BIA set out to “destroy all things Indian.” Through the exploration of the United States’ Federal Indian policy, it is evident that this policy intended to “destroy, in whole or in part,” the Native American population. The extreme disparity in the number of Native American people living within the United States’ borders at the time Columbus arrived, approximately ten million compared to the approximate 2.4 million Indians and Eskimos alive in the United States today, is but one factor that illustrates the success of the government’s plan of ‘Manifest Destiny’.”

The original Constitution afforded voting rights only to free, white landowning males.With regard to America’s African slaves, Abigail Adams, writing to her husband just before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, spoke of our hypocrisy in that “liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us. [Slavery] always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me–to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind on this subject.”

Abigail Adams worked with her daughter in law, the then First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams, to demand that Congress donate its recent two dollar pay raise in order to build a Foundling Hospital for their “ill begotten progeny.” (See Cokie Roberts, The Founding Mothers, 2008.) Congress had established such a reputation in the nation’s new capitol, far away from wives and families, while they were founding our government.

Here are just a few additional points to ponder for those who express a belief that the United States was founded as a “Christian Nation.”

George Washington & early Presidents

Responding to a group of clergymen who complained that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ, in 1789, Papers, Presidential Series, 4:274, (the “Magna-Charta” here refers to the proposed United States Constitution.) George Washington wrote, “I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country.” It is easy to infer that they clearly meant the Constitution to protect the rights of any religion, not only Christianity.

The Rev. Bird Wilson (son of Founding Father James Wilson, Continental Congress, and godson and biographer of George Washington’s pastor, Bishop William White) in a sermon devoted entirely to the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers, dated October of 1831 says “…among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism…the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity.” see John E. Remsburg, Six Historic Americans,. 1906.

The Rev. James R. Willson, in a sermon entitled “The Written Law, or The Law of God Revealed in the Scriptures, By Christ As Mediator; The Rule of Duty to Christian Nations to Civil Institutions”, 1838 where he says:

Never in any form, since the United States became an independent nation, has it acknowledged the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, nor professed subjection to his law. The convention that ratified and unanimously signed the present Federal Constitution, could not have meant to do so, as is demonstrated by many solid arguments.

1. The question was debated, and a very large majority refused to insert any acknowledgment of God, or of the religion of his Son.

2. Had this not been done, the members were men of too much discernment, to have overlooked, through inattention, a matter of so great magnitude. If they intended to acknowledge Christ, it would have been in such terms, as to admit of no doubt.

3. There were many deists in the convention, such as Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, Thomas Mifflin, Governor Morris, and James Madison. Governor Morris and Thomas Jefferson, affirm that General Washington was also a deist. Yet all these infidels signed the constitution. Would they have done so in the presence of those who knew them to be opposed to revealed religion had the instrument been christian.

4. Could the Presidents of the United States, three of whom, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, were certainly infidels, numerous members of congress, Governors of States, and many other officers of the General and State governments, have sworn to the Federal Constitution, had it been understood to recognize the headship of Messiah, whom they held to be an impostor?

5. It has never been the understanding of the nation that the constitution acknowledges the Lord Jesus Christ, or professes subjection to his laws. All infidels have sworn to the support of that instrument, and no one has ever thought of charging them with inconsistency.

6. The present President of the United States, in his message to congress, at the opening of the extra session of 1837, says: “The will of a majority of the people is the supreme law, in all things that come within the jurisdiction of the Federal government.” In all the opposition to his administration, this sentiment has never been called in question. The politicians of the nation, would generally reject with detestation, the doctrine, that the constitution binds to the acknowledgment of the Bible as the supreme rule of legislation in this commonwealth.

7. All these arguments are sealed, by the following provision. “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

“Treaty of Tripoli”, 1796, ratified by Congress. Article 11 states The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.” Then President John Adams ratified the treaty stating:

“Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed, and per- formed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof.”

See John Adams, Works, Vol. X, pp45-46 in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813 where he attributes the foundations of the American “experiment” were in large attributable to the thinkers of the Enlightenment

“Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System. I could therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present Information, that I believed they would never make Discoveries in contradiction to these general Principles. In favour of these general Principles in Phylosophy, Religion and Government, I could fill Sheets of quotations from Frederick of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Reausseau and Voltaire, as well as Neuton and Locke: not to mention thousands of Divines and Philosophers of inferiour Fame.”

For example, see Thomas Jefferson’s Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom. He writes,

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, 1785.According to the website, “Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance was written in opposition to a bill, introduced into the General Assembly of Virginia, to levy a general assessment for the support of teachers of religions. The assessment bill was tabled, and in its place the legislature enacted Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Liberty.” ( Source: Hensel, Jaye B., Ed., Church, State, and Politics Washington D.C. Final Report of the 1981 Chief Justice Earl Warren Conference on Adovcacy in the United States

Thomas Jefferson had drafted The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1779 three years after he wrote the Declaration of Independence. The act was not passed by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia until 1786. Jefferson was by then in Paris as the U.S. Ambassador to France. The Act was resisted by a group headed by Patrick Henry who sought to pass a bill that would have assessed all the citizens of Virginia to support a plural establishment. James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments was, and remains, a powerful argument against state supported religion. It was written in 1785, just a few months before the General Assembly passed Jefferson’s religious freedom bill.”

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton echoes this Enlightenment theme in his Farmer Refuted, 1775 when he says “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

There are some orthodox American Christian Historians who have gone to great lengths of research to prove that the “historic, biblical foundation” of our “Christian Republic” is a myth. See Gregg Frazer, Ph. D. (consult- ant to Dr. John MacArthur) Christian Faith and Modern Democracy, (2001) where he names three of them “These three men are regarded as three of the finest historians on American religious history. And all three of them are evangelical Christians. Noll is Professor of History at Wheaton College, Hatch is President-Elect and Professor of History at Wake Forest University and former Provost and Director of Graduate Studies in History at Notre Dame, and Marsden is Professor of History at Calvin College.”