Was George Washington a Christian?
George Washington is getting a bad rap these days. One area where he is often attacked is in his religious convictions. The following is from the Wikipedia article on Washington and religion:
George Washington attended the Anglican Church through all of his life, and was baptized as an infant. As a young man he also joined the Freemasons, which also promoted spiritual and moral values for society. While some of the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry were noted for writing about religion, Washington rarely discussed his religious and philosophical views. His personal letters and public speeches sometimes referred to “Providence.” He was a member of several churches which he attended, and served as an Anglican vestryman and warden for more than fifteen years, when Virginia had an established church.
On Providence, Washington wrote:
But that Providence which has hitherto smiled on the honest endeavors of the well meaning part of the People of this Country will not, I trust, withdraw its support from them at this crisis.
The letter to Richard Peters, speaker of the Pennsylvania House, is signed Sept. 7, 1788, and praises God for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office with his hand on an open Bible. After taking the oath, he added, “I swear, so help me God.” Following Washington’s example, presidents still invoke God’s name in their swearing-in ceremony.1 The inauguration was followed by “divine services” held in St. Paul’s Chapel, “performed by the Chaplain of Congress.”2
On September 24, 1789, the same day that it approved the First Amendment, Congress called on President Washington to proclaim a National Day of Prayer and thanksgiving which read:
That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.3
This proclamation acknowledges “the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.” This is odd language for a group of men who supposedly just separated religion from their newly formed government. In fact, this resolution uses devoutly religious language to acknowledge that they would not even have a government without God’s blessing.
But what of Washington’s Christian convictions? The following is from Jerry Newcombe, D.Min.
In a San Francisco high school named after the father of our country, George Washington, a large mural of him that has been around for decades is now being painted over because some were offended by it.
As the cultural Marxists in the thrall of political correctness take over more and more of the institutions of our nation, we can expect this kind of scrubbing away of our heritage.
George Washington sacrificed a lot to win us our freedoms. But today, he is being cast down by some of the “social justice warriors” as if he was more of a villain than a hero.
He did regrettably own slaves. But we must also keep in mind that he was the heir of a slave-owning family in a time when slavery was commonplace—and he decided by the end of his life that he would release his slaves, something highly unusual for the time.
For most of our nation’s history, our first president under the Constitution was considered a hero. He was also believed to be a Christian. But in the last few generations, he has been categorized as more of a Deist than as a Christian. I don’t think that is accurate, and I said as such as a guest on Lauren Green’s podcast, “Lighthouse Faith.” She is the religion editor for Fox News.
I co-authored a book on the faith of George Washington with Dr. Peter Lillback, the president of Westminster Theological Seminary and of the Providence Forum. It’s called George Washington’s Sacred Fire. He and I have a series of podcasts exploring virtually every issue related to Washington’s faith, including doubts that he was Christian.
The bottom line on George Washington and his faith is that, from all outward appearances, he was a devout 18th century Anglican with all that that would entail. He was a regular reader of the Bible. His speeches and writings (public and private) are dripping with biblical phrases. It is as if you were to cut the man, he would bleed Scripture.
George Washington attended church every opportunity he could. But people raise some objections to the idea of Washington the Christian.
We deal with all of them systematically in our book. But just to summarize some of the main points:
- Washington did not receive communion, supposedly, because he did not believe in Christ’s atonement. Wrong. He participated in communion earlier in life. Then when he led the rebellion against King George III, the head of the Church of England (the Anglican Church, which became in America the Episcopal Church), he ceased to commune in those churches (not other churches)—at least as long as the war lasted. He did on occasion receive communion after that, even in the Episcopal Church, such as on the day he was inaugurated, April 30, 1789, at the two-hour Christian worship service at St. Paul’s Chapel (in New York City).
- He was a Mason and therefore could not have been a Christian. Yet he only attended Masonic functions about once a decade. Also, Lillback notes that the Masons in Washington’s day held an annual Christian worship service where an evangelical minister would preach.
- Washington used elaborate names for God. Lillback notes that that was his baroque style. Washington spoke of God so reverently that he would use fancy words to describe the Almighty—which was also a custom of the evangelical preachers of America in his day.
- Washington supposedly avoided the name of Jesus. But he said to the Delaware Indian chiefs in 1779: “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.” He said in 1783 to all the governors of the states that unless we as a nation imitate “the divine Author of our blessed religion” (that would be Jesus), we can never hope to be a happy nation. Washington said to his troops after Valley Forge, “To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should to be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian.” And on it goes.
George Washington’s adopted granddaughter, Nellie Custis, was asked after he died about his faith. She said that you might as well question his patriotism as question his Christianity. Of course, today, American patriotism seems to be on the chopping block. So people who want to rewrite history are yanking Washington out of his 18th-century Anglican context, making him out to be a non-believer, and nowadays, even making him out to be more of a bad guy than a good guy. Such is the state of America’s gratitude today for all his sacrifices that we might be a free country.
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is an on-air host/senior producer for D. James Kennedy Ministries. He has written/co-written 31 books, e.g., The Unstoppable Jesus Christ, American Amnesia: Is American Paying the Price for Forgetting God?, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (w/ D. James Kennedy) & the bestseller, George Washington’s Sacred Fire (w/ Peter Lillback) djkm.org @newcombejerry www.jerrynewcombe.com
- Richard G. Hutcheson, Jr., God in the White House: How Religion Has Changed the Modern Presidency (New York: Macmillan, 1988), 37. [↩]
- Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, 87. [↩]
- The Annals of the Congress, The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, Compiled From Authentic Materials by Joseph Gales, Senior (Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, 1834), 1:949-50. [↩]