225 years ago (April 30, 1789), George Washington, the first president under the Constitution, was sworn in with his hand on a gigantic open Bible. He leaned over and kissed the book.
Many today say he was not really a Christian. But what does the evidence show? And why does it matter?
Let me answer the second question first. To paraphrase Woodrow Wilson: A nation that doesn’t remember where it came from doesn’t know where it is or where it is going. In that same speech, Wilson said we were born as a Christian nation. I would add, because of that fact, people of all faiths or no faith are welcome here. But we should honor the faith that helped shape the country.
The rest of this column deals with the first question. A few years ago I had the privilege to co-write a big, thick book (1200 pages) with Dr. Peter Lillback on the faith of Washington, carefully sifting through the evidence. The book demonstrated and documented that he was a devout 18th century Anglican and not a Deist, as some revisionists say.
Recently, I visited Mount Vernon, the home of our nation's famous first president. I was thrilled to see that the bookstore carried many copies of our book.
George and Martha Washington’s red-roofed estate sits on a hill overlooking the Potomac River and is perhaps the most famous and visited home in America. If you know where to look and what to look for, you can see many reminders of Washington's devout faith.
At Mount Vernon, they have a re-creation of George's pew from Pohick Church, which is in Lorton, Virginia. This box-shaped, red brick Anglican church was not only where Washington attended weekly services earlier in his life, it's also where he served as a Vestryman---an Anglican version of an elder and a deacon rolled into one.
Other replicas from Pohick Church at Mount Vernon include miniatures of the cross and two sections of the “reredos.” The reredos (pronounced RARE-uh-doss) was a large plaque often placed behind the altar in colonial Anglican churches with the words of the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles' Creed, with its affirmation of the Trinity.
The congregation would arise and recite these things together. There were reredoses in the churches regularly attended by not only Washington, but also Patrick Henry, James Madison and, even, Thomas Jefferson.
I personally have seen reredoses in churches in Williamsburg, Alexandria, Philadelphia, New York City (at St. Paul’s Chapel), and Providence, Rhode Island. There are many churches in the East where it can be truly claimed, “George Washington worshiped here.”