Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

June 9, 2016
Nearly all of our presidents had religious faith while in office

Religion seldom pops up among the daily controversies in this year’s presidential race.

I was a youngster when John F. Kennedy sought the nation’s highest executive office in 1960. The fact that he was Catholic played a prominent news role during that campaign.

My mom told the story that after President Kennedy’s inauguration, as a 5-year old, I said, “So President Kennedy is the first Catholic. There were a few Methodists and all the rest were Mormons.”

Not exactly. But that was my perspective growing up on the Highland streets of Tooele. My friends were Catholic, Methodist and Mormon.

I was off just a little. In reality, 43 presidents belonged to one of 11 denominations.

A half-century later, JFK is still the only Catholic U.S. president. And still no Mormons, although I heard that one made a gallant run but fell short a few years ago.

Eleven presidents were Episcopalian, beginning with the father of our country, George Washington. George H.W. Bush was the latest of that religion.

Eight Presbyterians served as U.S. president, including four during the 20th Century. Two to four presidents from the following denominations served: Methodist, Christian, Unitarian, Dutch Reformed, Disciples of Christ, Quaker and Baptist.

Only half of the faces on Mt. Rushmore — Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln — had no formal religious affiliation.

Although John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams were both Unitarian, George H.W. Bush was Episcopalian and his son George W. was a Methodist.

A handful of our founding fathers later served as president. Washington, who presided at the convention, was most likely a deist and would have denied accusations of not being a Christian.

In his writings and speeches, Washington preferred “Providence” or the “Great Ruler of Events,” and rarely used the word “God.” He served for many years as a vestryman in his local Anglican church.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson viewed religion from opposite ends of the rainbow. Jefferson appeared least affected by religion while Madison saw religion playing an important role in shaping our republican society.

Madison advised friends in letters to season their studies “with a little divinity now and then.”

Paul Johnson, author of the 1,088-page “A History of the American People” wrote that if the Constitution had been written in 1687 it was almost certain it would provide for a broad-based Protestantism to be the national religion.

On the other hand, if the Constitution would have been penned in 1887, it would have contained the need for the federal government to nurture a spirit of religious belief.

“Thus the actual language of the Constitution (written in 1787) reflects the spirit of its time, which was secular,” Johnson wrote.

As voters, we will endure four more months of campaign rhetoric. Hopefully whoever is elected will bring some spiritual aspects to the White House.

Roberts is a former bishop of the Tooele 6th Ward.

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