It seems clear religion has become too much of a campaign trail issue this presidential season. Yesterday, Jon Meachem, writing in The New York Times, took John McCain to task for pandering to the U.S.-is-a-Christian-nation crowd.
Thomas Jefferson said that his bill for religious liberty in Virginia was âmeant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.â When George Washington was inaugurated in New York in April 1789, Gershom Seixas, the hazan of Shearith Israel, was listed among the cityâs clergymen (there were 14 in New York at the time) â a sign of acceptance and respect. The next year, Washington wrote the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, R.I., saying, âhappily the government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. ... Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.â
Andrew Jackson resisted bids in the 1820s to form a âChristian party in politics.â Abraham Lincoln buried a proposed âChristian amendmentâ to the Constitution to declare the nationâs fealty to Jesus. Theodore Roosevelt defended William Howard Taft, a Unitarian, from religious attacks by supporters of William Jennings Bryan.
The founders were not anti-religion. Many of them were faithful in their personal lives, and in their public language they evoked God. They grounded the founding principle of the nation â that all men are created equal â in the divine. But they wanted faith to be one thread in the countryâs tapestry, not the whole tapestry.
I’ve got to say I agree, much to the delight, I’m sure, of some of my more godless readers. Christians often spend too much time trying to shape the American government so it fulfills the role of the church instead of just being the church themselves. History has already taught us the calamity of divinely-appointed and -inspired rulers. If we put too much credence in the faith of politicians, then truly we are believing in the absurd.
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