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Friday, July 2, 2010

Is it Important Whether George Washington Took Communion or Not?


Dr Peter Lillback, who's Providence Forum is leading the way in explaining America's Christian heritage, has recently started a blog on his organization's website. For the types that frequent this forum, he discusses many of the religious/political and "church and state" issues that come up on this blog with regularity and makes some interesting, well researched arguments defending his position.



One of the threads currently up on his blog addresses a subject that I have encountered on some of the more virulent, hard-core atheist websites, the matter of our (US) Founding Fathers and their personal faith and convictions. I have even read certain atheists put forward the idea that many of the Founding Fathers of the US were atheists or deists in the very least. George Washington is one of those that atheist apologists cite as an example and one of their leading arguments is that Washington stopped taking communion at the time of the commencement of the Revolutionary War. Dr Lillback beings his insight into the matter thusly...


"To begin, consider the often overlooked fact that Church and State were identical in the United Kingdom in the 18th Century as the American Declaration of Independence was signed. This meant that the King had to legally protect the church and it also meant that every Anglican clergyman had taken a legally enforceable vow to the monarch. Thus for Washington, who grew up in the Old Dominion, we can see that his relationship to the State unavoidably evokes the question of his relationship to the State’s established Church. To be a member in good standing in the Anglican Church, one must be a communicant, and specifically communing, at the sacramental table. There has never been any question about Washington’s doing so in his earlier years in the House of Burgesses in Virginia when he was also serving as vestryman and churchwarden for the Anglican Church of Virginia.

Scholars are agreed that Washington ceased to commune and resigned as a vestryman at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Taking these actions, he was breaking with both Church and State as he began to lead the American Revolutionary Army. While some have identified these actions with a nascent deism, a better explanation is he recognized he was no longer able to be in communion with the King or the King’s clergymen. Thereafter in the Revolution, reports of Washington’s communing occur in non-Anglican settings such as the Presbyterian church in Morristown, New Jersey. Furthermore, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton reported to her family that on the day of the new President’s inauguration in New York City, she had the privilege to kneel and take communion with him in an Episcopalian Chapel. Washington’s actions in this regard are consistent both with his break from the lawful Church and his return to its successor that was legally recognized on both sides of the ocean by the King and Congress. Thus it is clear that even in the matter of communing we see not only a witness to Washington’s Judeo-Christian faith but also the relevance of his religious actions for the creation of the new republic. Washington understood this and it can be seen in one of his own letters when he refers to the chalice of the communion service by the words of the King James Bible, “the cup of blessing.” He warns the nation that it is possible for the cup of blessing to be spilled before it reaches the lips of the one who partakes. In this way he was reminding the country that they were seated around a common communion table of civil liberty that required both thanksgiving and responsibility.

So to conclude, Washington’s communing was not nearly as important as Washington’s view of the tyranny of the King of England, but it is a faulty understanding of our nation’s origins to not see, no pun intended, the communion between the Eucharist and the revolution in the life of our founding father, George Washington."


You can read Dr Lillback's bio here. His book, George Washinton's Sacred Fire recently catapulted to number 1 on amazon.com's website after his appearance on The Glenn Beck Show.

8 comments:

AC Jones said...

That's a really good excerpt you pulled from the book. Appreciate it.

JD Curtis said...

Thanks for your comment AC. It's actually found on Lillback's blog which I link to on the right side. (Providence Forum)

It looks like he started a few different interesting threads over there and I think I will be a regular on his blog given my keen interest in the subject matter he relates.

photogr said...

I think it is a mute point on Washington taking comunion in a church. The fact remains he was a follower of the faith before and after the Revolution. The difference between the US and the UK is in the US, the church was not dictated by the government and had no political powers. During that time the UK church had expansive political powers in the government. Thus the separation of the church and the state rule was invented here in the US to prevent that quagmire.

SmartLX said...

The impression I've always had, even from church-state separatists, is that Washington was one of the more religious founding fathers. It's Jefferson that the Texas Board of Education is trying to de-emphasise in history class, not Washington.

JD Curtis said...

I decided to address President Jefferson in a seperate entry.

IlĂ­on said...

"who's" and "it's"

You may take this as pointless sniping. I hope not, yet if you do ...

The words 'who's' and 'it's' are not the possessive case for 'who' and 'it,' they are contractions for 'who is' and 'it is' -- the possessive for these words are 'whose' and 'its.'

Oddly enough, the persons who write 'who's' and 'it's' when they ought to write 'whose' and 'its' almost invariably write 'whose' and 'its' when they ooght to write 'who's' and 'it's.'

JD Curtis said...

I admit that my spelling can be atrocious at times. I actually appreciate your above entry in that it might help eliminate errors in the future.

King of Ireland said...

This blog post may help answer the question you pose in your title which I assume was taken from my post linked at Dr. Lillback's blog:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/07/does-it-really-matter-if-george.html

I am not an atheist at all. I am a Christian.