The Religious Influence on American Presidents
It is no secret that America’s presidents have been predominantly Christian, but how religious have all of the presidents been?
While they ran the Oval Office in their unique ways that varied according to their distinct personalities, experience levels, and institutional inclinations, virtually all of America’s presidents have held on commonality, and that is an open religious participation. Religion has been such a central component of president’s careers that commercials have been made invoking their faith. Almost all of America’s over forty past Presidents were openly Protestant Christians, and nearly half of the nation’s presidents have been affiliated with the Episcopal or Presbyterian churches.
John F. Kennedy remains the only Catholic to have held the nation’s highest office; although, President Barack Obama is also quoted to be currently searching for a new church in Washington, D.C., after resigning his membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago back in 2008 – where he had worshiped for over 20 years before.
British writer G.K Chesteron even called America “a nation with the soul of a church.” The striking religious consistency also led 20th Century journalist Theodore White to say that “the Presidency hovers over the popular American imagination almost as a sacerdotal office, a priestly role for which normal political standards are invalid.”
While it is an established fact that almost all forty of these fine men were notably religious, the jury is out on who among the exclusive group exhibited the highest level of religiosity. Randall Balmer, a historian and professor American religion at Dartmouth College who authored God in the White House and Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter, considers the following five as the most religious presidents.
Jimmy Carter: Prior to his Presidency, Carter is said to have knocked on doors of strangers promoting the word of God. He will approach people saying “I’m Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” Famous for being a Baptist Sunday School Teacher before and even after his Presidential tenure, he read his Bible and prayed daily throughout his time in office.
George W. Bush: remembered for famously declaring “I believe God wants me to be president,” Bush was the most comfortable compared to other presidents talking about religion, religious leaders, and using religious language in regard to his politics. “Whatever else the presidency of George W. Bush imprints on American history, it will at least have granted the nation an opportunity to rethink the role of religion in its public life,” Steven Mansfield said about the President that had openly exhibited strong affiliation with religion.
William McKinley: reportedly a regular churchgoer who enthusiastically sang the hymns while in office, McKinley was a proud Methodist. He is said to have steered clear of “sins,” as well as he avoided drinking, swearing, and smoking. McKinley was so religious that his dying words were, “Good-bye, good bye, all. It’s God’s way. His will, not ours, be done. Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee.”
James Madison: a staunch Episcopalian, Madison appropriated funds for to distribute Bibles. Madison helped establish the role of Congressional chaplains, and he supported the open declaration of public officials’ faiths. However, he later retracted his beliefs, saying that both chaplains paid by the government and prayers led by the president were unconstitutional. Even so, James Madison still remains one of America’s most religious Presidents to date.
Abraham Lincoln:Though he struggled with his faith and even sometimes doubted the Jesus Christ’s divinity, he often quoted the Bible in speeches. He did no formally attend any church, but in his time, barely 25% of the American population did.