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George Washington's God

by Michael Novak & Jana Novak -- reviewed by Earle Fox

[See also, Was GW a Christian?]

The standard line for over a century now about our American founding fathers is that they were not interested in religion, or at least not the Christian religion, more likely deism, that they were preparing the way for a secular America, and that our Constitution was written for such.  Never mind that the principles of a free people under a limited government given in the Constitution could not have been invented by a secular mind-set, and that political freedom could have come (and historically did come) only under Biblical inspiration. 

A new book has come out, Washington's God, by Michael Novak and Janna Novak (daughter of Michael) which makes the case for a Christian George Washington.  It was written in conjunction with Mount Vernon which gets many requests for information on GW's religion.  They did not have anything they felt good about recommending, so the Novaks agreed to write their book. 

The Novaks do a superb job of dealing with the issues, are very sensitive to the nuances of religious belief, and give the best and most detailed look at GW's spiritual life I have read, depending mostly on the large volume of writings extant from GW, as well as material written from other viewpoints. 

The problem is that GW rarely mentioned Jesus, was very reserved about his faith in both public and private conversation, and received communion only sparsely.  Well, point out the Novaks, GW was an Anglican, and Anglicans are just that way.  I was an Episcopalian from 4th grade on (it was the closest church and probably fit the upscale drift of our family life as dad progressed economically). 

As I grew up, I had many friends who were Baptists and Methodists.  And they talked about Jesus, but we Episcopalians were never heard to utter the name of Jesus unless we were reading the Bible out loud (very
rarely!).  We might talk about God, but only guardedly.  I was very disappointed even in high school that we Episcopalians were that way.  I knew that Jesus was the center of our religion, and could not understand our attitude.  That was changed for many of us during the '60's and '70's as the charismatic renewal swept through many parishes, including my own in East Haddam, Connecticut.  What a breath of fresh air!!!   I know exactly what the Novaks are talking about.  Much good has happened in the Episcopal Church over the last decades, despite the self-destruction of the Episcopal Church over that time regarding so-called "liberal-conservative" issues. 

So the reticence of GW was no secure evidence that he was not a Christian.  It was not a healthy or helpful way of doing things, but that is how it was. 

It is fair to say that Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and John Adams (perhaps one or two others) were not orthodox Trinitarian Christians.  They might be called Unitarians, but even they believed that we are both personally and corporately responsible to God, and that God does indeed intervene in the course of history.  Those are not Deist beliefs.   All of our founding fathers were, in that sense, within the Biblical worldview. 

Having put GW into the proper historical context, they go on to show how what he did say would never have been said by a deist, which they are careful to define.  GW clearly believed in a God who intervenes in history, holds us accountable, and has a clear and definable purpose for all of us, both personally and corporately.  That is not a God of deism, it is the God of the Bible, as GW himself said to a Jewish congregation.  

Read it and rejoice...! 

[See also, Was GW a Christian?]

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