Janet M. LaRue

Psychiatrist Karl Menninger, founder of the Menninger Clinic, raised the question, “Whatever became of sin?” in his 1973 book title. There was a time when U.S. presidents made certain that our sin didn’t fade from our national conscience. Not this year.

The Huffington Post reviewed the Thanksgiving Proclamations of 26 U.S. Presidents from Washington to Barack Obama, and concluded that they’re “strikingly the same”:

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor..."

With these words, written by George Washington in 1789, an American holiday tradition was born. Ever since, in times of peace and prosperity, war and want, American Presidents have offered gratitude to God while calling on all Americans to gather in humble praise. Though the language of thanks has changed in the past 222 years, the content of these presidential prayers remains strikingly the same.

Many presidential proclamations are strikingly similar in their expressions of humility, thanksgiving, dependence, confession, repentance, supplication and praise to “Almighty God, “the Sovereign of the Universe,” “great and glorious Being,” “great Lord and Ruler of Nations,” “Father of Mercies,” “Redeemer of the World,” “Supreme Being,” “Most High God,” “Great Mediator and Redeemer,” “Author of All Good,” “Great Sovereign of the Universe,” “Almighty Father,” “Divine Majesty, “Holy Spirit,” “Most High God,” “Beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe,” “Giver of Good.” Every proclamation concludes with the same phrase used in the U.S. Constitution: “In the year of our Lord.”

But something is missing from this year’s message out of the Obama White House. It’s the mention of sin and the need for repentance.

Thanksgiving proclamations from Washington to Barack Obama are available at: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc.htm. Following are highlighted excerpts from Presidents who called on Americans to seek forgiveness for our personal and national sins in order to secure God’s continued blessing on our nation:

George Washington, 1789:

“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions…”

John Adams, 1798:

“[W]ith the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction;”

James Madison, 1814:

“[A] day on which all may have an opportunity of voluntarily offering at the same time in their respective religious assemblies their humble adoration to the Great Sovereign of the Universe, of confessing their sins and transgressions, and of strengthening their vows of repentance and amendment.

Abraham Lincoln, 1863:

“[A]nd finally to lead the whole nation through the paths of repentance and submission to the divine will back to the perfect enjoyment of union and fraternal peace.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1865:

“Whereas righteousness exalteth a nation, while sin is a reproach to any people. … And I do further recommend that on that occasion the whole people make confession of our national sins against His infinite goodness, and with one heart and one mind implore the divine guidance in the ways of national virtue and holiness.”

Grover Cleveland, 1887:

“On that day let all secular work and employment be suspended, and let our people assemble in their accustomed places of worship and with prayer and songs of praise give thanks to our Heavenly Father for all that He has done for us, while we humbly implore the forgiveness of our sins and a continuance of His mercy.”

Grover Cleveland, 1896:

“And let us, through the mediation of Him who has taught us how to pray, implore the forgiveness of our sins and a continuation of heavenly favor.”

Dwight Eisenhower, 1953:

“On that day let all of us, in accordance with our hallowed custom, forgather in our respective places of worship and bow before God in contrition for our sins, in suppliance for wisdom in our striving for a better world, and in gratitude for the manifold blessings He has bestowed upon us and upon our fellow men.”

John Kennedy, l963, quoted from Washington’s Proclamation, including the plea to

"[B]eseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions…

Ronald Reagan, 1988, quoting Washington:

[A] recognition of our shortcomings and transgressions and our dependence, in total and in every particular, on the forgiveness and forbearance of the Almighty.”

President George H.W. Bush, 1989, quoting Washington:

“[A] recognition of our shortcomings and transgressions and our dependence, in total and in every particular, on the forgiveness and forbearance of the Almighty.”

President George H.W. Bush, 1990, quoting Washington:

“Let us seek His forgiveness for our shortcomings and transgressions and renew our determination to remain a people worthy of His continued favor and protection.”

Contrary to the theologians at HuffPost, and except for concluding with “in the year of our Lord,” Obama’s five paragraph proclamation is strikingly dissimilar:

Obama’s first graph praises the Wampanoag tribe for aiding the Pilgrims and gives thanks to “all American Indians and Alaska Natives … the First Americans.”

In his second graph, Obama recalls that Washington “praised a generous and knowing God” and that Lincoln “looked to the divine to protect those who had known the worst of civil war” in his.

In his third graph, Obama recalls that “we have lifted our hearts by giving humble thanks for the blessings” without mentioning God. Obama rightly thanks our military for their sacrifice.

In the fourth graph, Obama expresses thanks first “to each other” and then “to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives. Let us pause to recount the simple gifts that sustain us, and resolve to pay them forward in the year to come.” Rather than Scripture or Heaven, we get Hollywood, as in “Pay It Forward.”

In the fifth graph, Obama calls us to “give thanks for all we have received in the past year, to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own,” again without mentioning God.

Obama offers no high praises to Almighty God, no reminders of His unique attributes, which naturally lead sinners to repent and seek His forgiveness. The Obama storehouse of soaring rhetoric, inspiration and hope is barren.

Whatever became of sin?

The One who has blessed and sustained us from our beginning reminds us: “Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34


Janet M. LaRue

Jan LaRue is Senior Legal Analyst with the American Civil Rights Union; former Chief Counsel at Concerned for Women; Legal Studies Director at Family Research Council; and Senior Counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families. Be the first to read Janet LaRue's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.