A First Amendment case is brewing in Maryland involving sectarian prayers and a prayer book wrongly attributed to George Washington.
The prayer recited by Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier Thursday that she said is from George Washington has been proven to not belong to the first president, but is often used by Christian Conservative politicians, according to a scholar.
Friend and Messiah College history professor John Fea provided the expert commentary:
John Fea, chair of the History Department at Messiah College, said the prayer comes from the so-called George Washington Prayer Book, which was found in a chest of papers by one of Washington’s descendants in the 1890s. The University of Virginia, which houses the Papers of George Washington, and the Smithsonian Institution have concluded, based on the handwriting, that it was not written by Washington, Fea said.
More from the Baltimore Sun.
I am hearing good things about the Inhabit conference held at Wheaton College this past weekend. I had wanted to attend but couldn’t due to a previous commitment. One topic of discussion at the conference was the problem of the Christian nation concept.
John Fea notes that the Christian nation theory is offensive to many African-American evangelicals. Here is a taste:
On Friday evening I was inspired by the Wheaton Gospel Choir and messages by Pastor Ray, Chris Beard of Peoples Church in Cincinnati, and Bryan Loritts, the pastor of a multiracial church in Memphis. (Loritts is a big Jonathan Edwards fan and was very excited to meet Marsden. He had just finished Marsden’s biography of Edwards and was now reading some of Noll’s work). The evangelical African-American community is deeply offended by the notion, made popular by Christian nationalists such as David Barton, that the United States needs to somehow “return” or “go back” to its so-called Christian roots. They view America’s founding as anything but Christian. Many of the founding fathers owned slaves. When the founders had the chance to choose the nation over the end of slavery (1776 and 1787) they always chose the former. Slavery is embedded in the Constitution. Indeed, the entire debate over whether the United States is a Christian nation is a white Protestant evangelical issue. One would be hard pressed to find an African-American evangelical who wants to return to what Christian Nationalists often describe as the golden age of American Christianity.
Rev. Beard’s experience as a minister in Cincinnati illustrates Fea’s observations:
Beard’s Peoples Church seems to have made the most striking reversal on the Christian America question. As a member of the Assembly of God denomination, Beard taught his congregation that the founders were Christians, that America was a Christian Nation, and that patriotism was almost inseparable from the Kingdom of God. He even had David Barton speak at his church. But after reading folks like Noll and Marsden, and looking more closely at the historical record, Beard changed his mind. He made a deliberate attempt to reject Christian nationalist teaching, build an international and multiracial congregation, and subordinate his patriotism to the Kingdom of God. He lost a lot of his church in the process, but he has rebuilt it into an even stronger congregation.
Beard’s views certainly motivated his opposition to The Jefferson Lies when it came out, as well as to the recent surge of interest in the Institute on the Constitution and League of the South.
John Fea posted a must-read article on Patheos this morning about what can be learned from the debacle over The Jefferson Lies. He brings together many threads and items of relevance to the entire controversy. I hope those who still think criticisms of Barton’s history are only coming from Alinsky-inspired liberals will read this piece.
The truth is out there. The effort to paint us all as academic elitists and liberals is just a way to try to change the subject.
Go read Fea’s post; it is very well done and on target.
Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President is now live on Amazon.
One way we are getting the word out about the book is The Jefferson Quiz. Go check it out and test your Jefferson knowledge. You can see the answers and the results of others who have taken it after you are done.
Read the book on any digital device or computer you own. Click here to see how to do it.
If you have any questions about the book, leave them in the comments section here or at the site designed to support the book – Getting Jefferson Right.
About the book, Messiah College chair of history, John Fea, said:
*Getting Jefferson Right* is an intellectual and historical take down of David Barton’s pseudo-history of Thomas Jefferson by two Christian professors who teach at a conservative Christian college. Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton have done their homework. Anyone who reads this book must come to grips with the untruths and suspect historical interpretations that Barton regularly peddles in his books, speaking engagements, and on his radio program. I have yet to read a more thorough refutation of Barton’s claims.
–John Fea, Chair of the History Department, Messiah College and author of *Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction*
(Earlier I had mentioned a problem with images in the book. Those are now resolved. Anyone who bought the book without the images will get an email from Amazon with instructions on how to get their copy updated. People buying the book now should be fine.)
Both of them were/are considered infidels and anti-Christian during their tenure in public life by the religious right of their era.
I started this post when some Christian right leaders went ballistic over Barack Obama’s reference to his religious views at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month. Then, Rick Santorum called Obama’s theology “phony.” And then today I see that my friend at Messiah College John Fea is at the heart of a storm over his statement that Barack Obama is “the most explicitly Christian president in American history.”
Glenn Beck is all over the Messiah history prof because of course one cannot view Barack Obama’s statements in the same way one views the religious statements of other Presidents.
For sure, though, there is a parallel between Obama and Jefferson.
During the campaign of 1800, Rev. Thomas Robbins wrote in his diary:
The Anti-Federalist ticket has prevailed in the city of New York, and they have chosen Democratic members for their assembly. It is said this will make a majority of Democratic electors in their legislature, and bring Jefferson into the Presidential chair. Blessed be God that all things are in His hands, and may He avert such an evil from this country, for His name’s sake. I do not believe that the Most High will permit a howling atheist to sit at the head of this nation.
As we know, the Most High did permit Jefferson to sit at the head of the nation.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Jefferson was very cautious about his correspondence surrounding his Presidential years because he feared the reaction of religious leaders – “genus irritabile vatum” (irritable tribe of priests ) he called them. Many in religious establishment in his day believed that Jefferson was antagonistic toward religion and opposed him politically. Sound familiar?
I am not sure I agree with John, although I am not convinced I disagree with his statement regarding Obama. I am sure though that Jefferson and Obama have at least one thing in common.
Fight the good fight, John.