Ad Gloriam Dei

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"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Washington was an Anglican

As I allowed an old, erroneous piece of apocrypha to slip into a previous article due to time pressures, I want to make up for it by setting the record straight in this post.

Although there is good evidence that the Episcopalian Church in America lost many members due to its support of the British Government’s usurpation of the authority of the legislative bodies of the Colonies and the unfaithfulness of George III to his subjects, nevertheless Washington was a faithful adherent of that church before, during and after the War.

John Eidsmoe's "Christianity and the Constitution" has biographies on most (all?) of the Founding Fathers. He includes one of Washington in which he states the following: “It is evident that Washington was a man of prayer, but it is more difficult to determine the nature of his religious convictions.” He states that the reason for this appears to be his own reserved nature in private and his consciousness of being the leader of the whole nation, which included many denominations. Nevertheless, Washington's denominational affliliation is clear.

Prior to the War, Washington was a member of Truro Parish of the Episcopalian Church in Vigininia and he became a vestry member on 25th October 1762, which is recorded in the vestry book of the Pohick Church of that parish. He attended when able to, and when not able to, he conducted services at home.

During the War, he remained an Episcopalian. While at Morristown, NJ, during the winter of 1776-77, the Lord’s Supper was to be administered in a Presbyterian church, and he asked the pastor, Dr Jones, “I would learn if it accords with the canon of your church to admit communicants of another denomination… Though a member of the Church of England, I have no exclusive partialities.”

After the War, he attended Pohick Church and Christ Church in Alexandria, both of which were in Truro Parish, VA, and at which he had a pew. He also attended the following Episcopalian churches, when in those cities: St Paul’s Episcopalian in New York and the Episcopalian Cathedral in Philadelphia. He was a faithful member of the Episcopalian church near Mount Vernon, as the parish rector mentions: “I never knew so constant an attendant on church as Washington.”


Read the rest...

10 Comments:

Blogger Custard said...

I think you've established pretty well that Washington was a faithful attender at an Anglican church. As we both know, that does not necessarily make him a faithful Anglican, especially in an age when church attendance was the norm.

Isaac Newton was a regular attender at church, as well as an alchemist and a unitarian.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 7:24:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

As Calvin would say, "Don't take this in an absolute sense." ;)

The more accurate title "Washington was a faithful attender at an Anglican church" would have been too long. Take it as poetic licence. Although there is every indication to believe that he was a committed Christian as far as outward appearance.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 9:40:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

I have changed the title a little.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 7:58:00 pm  
Blogger Daniel Hill said...

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Presidents_by_religious_affiliation

The religious views of George Washington are a matter of some controversy. There is considerable evidence that he, like many intellectuals of his time, was a deist — believing in Divine Providence, but not believing in divine intervention in the world after the initial design. Before the revolution, when the Church of England was still the state religion in Virginia, he served as a member of the vestry (lay council) for his local congregation. He spoke often of the value of religion in general, and he sometimes accompanied his wife Martha Washington to Christian church services. However, there is no record of his ever becoming a communicant in any Christian church and he would regularly leave services before communion—with the other non-communicants. When Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia mentioned in a weekly sermon that those in elevated stations set an unhappy example by leaving at communion, Washington ceased attending at all on communion Sundays. Long after Washington died, asked about Washington's beliefs, Abercrombie replied: "Sir, Washington was a Deist."

Thursday, August 03, 2006 7:31:00 am  
Blogger Daniel Hill said...

I've just seen Michael Haykin's comment at http://ad-gloriam-dei.blogspot.com/2006/07/thanksgiving-to-god-and-lament-for_12.html#c115298652767965671
So treat Wikipedia with scepticism, but, yes, Michael, I'd be interested to see the sources. Thanks.

Thursday, August 03, 2006 7:47:00 am  
Blogger Custard said...

As far as my limited knowledge stretches, Washington was quite involved in freemasonry, wasn't he?

Johnson, A History of the American People writes "Washington... was probably a deist, though he would have strenuously denied accusations of not being a Christian... He rarely used the word 'God', preferring 'Providence' or 'the Great Ruler of Events.' ... Sometimes he did not trouble himself to go to church on a Sunday, rare in those days. ... Washington served for many years as a vestryman... believing this to be a pointed gesture of solidarity with an institution he regarded as underpinning a civilized society."

Sounds as if he had pretty similar views to most of the freemasons I know today!

Thursday, August 03, 2006 10:17:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Eidsmoe refutes some of these allegations levelled at Washington in the same book. If I remember correctly, his sister wrote to refute some of these assertions.

What many people don't understand about 18th Century America (and the British Isles) is that certain terminology, e.g. "divine providence", was common amongst the elite, whether they were deist or not. It was just the semantic fashion of the rich. This has led to many being incorrectly labelled as deist when they weren't.

Further info when I get home.

Thursday, August 03, 2006 12:08:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

By the way, the greatest stress concerning God in Washington's speeches and writings was regarding God's providence. This is the complete antithesis of classical deism, i.e. the non-intervention of God is history. (Some are making questionable redefinitions of the word "deism", e.g. Wikipedia.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006 12:40:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

P.S. Those who think that "Divine Providence" refers to the creative act and no intervention need their theological definitions sorted out! Secular historians can be particularly bad with theological terms.

Having just persued some writings by Washington it is clear that he uses the word "providence" as conventionally used. The emphasis on Divine intervention in history is perhaps stronger in his writings adn speeches than anyone I have read, probably because he was so concerned about the on-going events in the world.

Although Washington did used the fashionable terms for God at the time, his writings and speeches show that he almost as equally used the word God as much (esp. "Almighty God").

The evidence from those who knew him is clear that he attended the Lord's Supper, but not always regularly, and this was probably because he had concerns about his fitness to receive it on those occasions, and particularly during one period in his life. He was a very conscientious and humble, but private man. Indeed, he took all of these qualities to extremes.

The evidence, amongst others, includes a letter from an officer who served with Washington to his very pious wife, who had concerns about rumours regarding his non-attendance, and a letter from his granddaughter, who was also their adopted daughter, and who was reacting against allegations about her grandfather's Christian commitment after his death.

The ungodly want all the Founding Fathers to be deists, so they can reinterpet the American Revolution as non-Christian and a product of the Enlightenment.

Thursday, August 03, 2006 1:06:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

This is not to say that some Founding Fathers were unbelievers, e.g. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, as Eidsmoe shows.

Although Franklin was a deist as a youth, he clearly rejected this later on. Unbelievers like to quote his earlier thinking and ignore his later writings, esp. during his years as a "Founding Father".

Even the best known unbeliever, Jefferson, was not a deist, but he was a Unitarian and a Rationalist, and rejected the inspiration of the Bible. For those who don't know, Jefferson is well known for presenting himself as a Christian in public, but holding contrary opinions in private so as not to affect his standing in the polls.

Thursday, August 03, 2006 1:20:00 pm  

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