In case you’re wondering what the fireworks, parades and cookout clamor is all about this time of year, let me give you a one sentence history lesson on July 4th: Independence Day is when Americans (winning!) celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence that happened on July 4, 1776, which declared American Colonial independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
I’m thankful the founding fathers had the backbone to stand up to the bloody Motherland and sign that Revolutionary document of epic proportions. Otherwise we’d all be sporting bad teeth and eating crappy food right now; Or even worse, obsessed with the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
There is another legacy I am thankful the FF left behind too. This one is to the chagrin of strange secular e-scholars armed with gobs of misinformation. If you do a tertiary Google search of the “Founding Fathers Religion” you just might walk away with an overwhelming impression that America was founded on Deism and Agnosticism.
As my scorned Brit counterparts may say in a classic Monty Python tone: “Rubbish!”
Now, I know some wiggle room may be needed when throwing around absolutes about the personal religious belief’s of dudes who lived 250 years ago. Given there are some minor conflicting reports on a handful of the signers, a + or – 2 point margin of error may be due. But the signers were highly literate public figures who wrote a lot, whether it be letters or articles. In addition to church records, their own words take the guesswork out of discerning where most all of them stood whether politically or religiously.
So here is the specific religious persuasion of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Scope out this snazzy table I jacked from Adherents.com:
|Unitarian or Universalist||2||3.6%|
The FF’s religion simply mirrored that of American religious life. A compelling case could be made that the FF’s were actually more denominationally affiliated than the average citizen of the day.
Out of the 56 signers, only two were the overtly unorthodox “Unitarian/Universalist”: John Adams and Robert Paine (both came from a Congregationalist background). The table does fail to distinguish two notable Episcopalian-affiliated FF’s from the rest (I would have put them in a different category). Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were both Deists. Though both subscribed to a Creator, they also posited God was as an absentee Father in their day in age.
So when adding it up in the most liberal way possible, there were a total of FOUR signers of the DoI who would not be considered “bible-believing” Christians in the most fundamental classical sense.
4 out of 56. A total of 7 % were not orthodox Christians. Or to put it positively, 93 % of the signers of the DoI were orthodox bible believing Christians. In fact, four of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were current or former full-time preachers, and many more were the sons of clergymen. A large percentage graduated from Ivy League seminaries, back when Ivy League Seminaries churned out missionaries with a high view of Scripture.
Signer John Witherspoon, the President of Princeton University and Presbyterian minister, said:
It is the man of piety and inward principle, that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. – God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseperable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.
Hmmm. Sounds like the founders had a much more nuanced view of that “impenetrable wall between church and state” than contemporary secular apologists suggest. Contemporary historical expert on the matter, Robert G. Ferris, writes:
The signers possessed many basic similarities. Most were American-born and of Anglo-Saxon origin. The eight foreign-born… were all natives of the British Isles. Except for Charles Carroll, a Roman Catholic, and a few Deists, every one subscribed to Protestantism. For the most part basically political nonextremists, many at first had hesitated at separation let alone rebellion.
Now I know some of the founders (especially the unorthodox ones) had some disparaging remarks about institutionalized religion. They were not far removed from the abuses and persecutions of a British state religion after all. That is the primary reason the DoI has a strong non-denominational appeal to it. Though largely all Protestant, the signers were wise enough to see the folly and corruption that followed a virtual Theocratic state.
That is the genius of their “government by the people,” instead of by the King or political elite. Most every FF believed in the sinfulness of all men, even (especially?) those untouchable men crowned with great authority.
So I am thankful for the Christian heritage of America’s Founding Fathers. By no means do I believe they intended to establish an expressly “Christian nation” with no regard to other worldviews. But a majority were clearly men of Christian conviction and conscience, with a deep reverence for the sovereign God revealed in Scripture.
The founding fathers were not all agnostics or deists. Any modern theory that leans on such blatant historical revisionism is, well…rubbish.