GUEST COMMENTARY: Thomas Jefferson, our least Christian president

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(RNS) This Fourth of July, after the parades are over, I propose we all devote a few minutes to remembering our least Christian president. Instead of reading David Barton, go straight to Thomas Jefferson himself and to the words he chose to deliver on his first day as president. By Stephen Prothero. 

  • gilhow

    Putting the old-timers in an equal politico/religious setting with all later presidents is an impossibility that leaves all comparisons quite meaningless. It can only be claimed tongue-in-cheek that Jefferson was our least Christian president. From his own thought in his own writings, he was a deist in his own time, and by today’s standards, he was definitely an atheist.

    What about George Washington a master of careful language that would not offend any varieties in his military or political constituencies? Washington was baptized Anglican as an infant, but never sought to confirm that church affiliation as an adult. He attended church services only on formal occasions, and never participated in any other sacraments, except possibly his marriage to Martha, which would have been another formality to satisfy her.

    What about John Adams, a Unitarian, who more than two centuries ago denied the Christian Trinity and whose later correspondence with Jefferson shows them in very close agreement about most religious and political matters?

    What about the very astute politician and master of political language, Abraham Lincoln, who, in spite of lacing his speeches and writings with light religious references, could not be affiliated with any formal religion?

    Many, like Richard Nixon, made careful use of the religion in which they had been raised, some very casually, but a close study of their lives forces on to wonder about their serious religious sentiments.

    That same “serious, politically safe” affiliation or participation in religion or church runs throughout the history of our presidents. How often have you seen Bill Clinton attending a church service since he left the White House except for a “political” event? Yet he and Hillary, like the elder Bushes before them, were very frequently photographed on their way back to the White House after Sunday church attendance.

    Very few politicians are genuine religious animals. Besides, what’s the difference? We’re hiring executives to manage our federal government, not a church. As long as their ethics present no serious conflict with the general ethics of the country, that’s all that matters.

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