Christianity and the Bible were important to America’s Founding Fathers, but they neglected to make any references to god in the U.S. Constitution, according to one of the nation’s leading researchers on the topic.
Dr. John Fea, associate professor of American history and chair of the history department at Messiah College, delivered this message, along with a few other points from his book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011) at Marietta College’s Alma McDonough Auditorium Tuesday night (Jan. 22).
“Almost all of the founders saw religion and Christianity as a way to create a virtuous citizenship,” he said. But he added that they leaders like Thomas Jefferson also believed in separation of church and state.
Fea said too many political pundits today refer to America’s “biblical heritage,” but he believes they are actually talking more about the present than what really happened in the past. This is what led him to delve into this topic and write and lecture about it.
“I found that religion played a powerful role, but I also found a lot that would make both the right and left today very uncomfortable,” Fea said.
He started by quoting President Obama’s first inaugural address and noted the high number of references to Christianity and god. This led him to write that the current president, “at least in his rhetoric may be the most biblical or Christian president we have ever seen.”
While his assertion caught the attention of conservative-leaning pundits like Glenn Beck, who vehemently disagreed, Fea stands behind what he said.
“Take George Washington. He never mentions Jesus Christ either publicly or privately,” Fea said.
Fea did add the people of the U.S. have considered to be living in a Christian nation except for a time in the 1960s and 1970s.
Fea also took a handful of questions from some of the 175 people in attendance.
Fea is the author or editor of two other books: Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010) and The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). His book The Power to Transform: Reflections on the Study of the Past, will appear in 2013 with Baker Academic.
His essays and reviews have appeared in a variety of scholarly and popular venues. He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home (www.philipvickersfithian.com/), presenting reflections at the intersection of American history, Christianity, politics, and academic life.