By Dr. Mal Couch
Public prayer, spiritual publications of poems and music, have always been a part of America, until recently. There are forces now trying to silence the Christian spiritual heritage of open and free expression to our God that made this nation great.
Each week Iíll add some historical tidbits as how Christian expression and public prayer was a vital part of our nationís blessing. We may not fully know of the spiritual state of all the men we examine, but we do know none of them were fearful of prayers to the God of the Bible in the public setting.
If you are a pastor or Sunday school teacher, please print off these little bits of our history and share them with others.
Washington was one of the founding fathers that many thought could have been a deist. But this may not have been so. It is true, however, that religiously he was as enigmatic to his contemporaries as he would be to later historians. While he regularly attended Episcopal services at churches near his estate at Mount Vernon, he was also fairly regular when away and attended churches in Philadelphia and New York. Yet he simply did not speak openly on church doctrinal or spiritual issues. It was because of his silence that historians, fairly or unfairly, labeled him a deist.
But this was not unusual. Many of the men who were thinkers in the colonies pulled back or repudiated the squabbling between denominations. They wanted to have little to do with formalism in their spiritual life.
When Washington was thirteen he wrote down in a notebook verses entitled "On Christmas Day." In it he wrote: "Assist me, O divine One, to sing this morn, On which the Savior of mankind was born." During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress called for days of prayer and fasting. Washington reinforced those directives with his men, noting in his diary, "In prayer we implore the Lord, and giver of all victory to pardon our manifold sins and wickedness. We approach the throne of Almighty God with gratitude and praise."
When he retired from his work he wrote a letter to all the governors of the newly freed states invoking Godís continual blessings upon them. He wrote what was called "Washingtonís Prayer." He implored the new nation
to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves that Charity, humility and a pacified temper of mind, which are the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion (Christianity) which should rule, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.
Washington of course could not retire. He was elected as the first president of the United States! At his inauguration he added the words to his acceptance speech, "So help me God" and then kissed the Bible. This launched a tradition. He went on and said that God was the Great Author of every public and private good, and then implored the nation never to forget "His divine blessing on which the success of this government must depend." When the inauguration was finished seven hundred people formed two lines and made a "grand procession" to St. Paulís Episcopal Church for a service of blessing.