My Musings

A Christian Nation? (Part III)

A Christian Nation? (Part III)
    Question: Why is the First Amendment first?

    Answer: Because our Founders believed that nothing comes ahead of religious vitality and liberty in establishing and sustaining America as a nation.

President George Washington expressed this conviction in his Farewell Address (September 17, 1796) thusly; “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

Our first President saw no role for government in binding any particular sect or religion on anyone. Each American must be free to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. It was, however, the role of the politician (according to Washington) “to respect and to cherish” the great pillars of religion and morality.

America’s deepest foundations were not set by brilliant statesmen, powerful armies, great speeches, a robust economy, free elections, or even well-crafted documents on parchment. They were primarily rooted in our faith in God—the “Creator”, “Supreme Judge” and “Divine Providence” as affirmed in our Declaration of Independence—a faith strong enough to nourish virtue and morality among the people. Colonial Christianity provided the wing of faith to compliment the wing of reason (the Enlightenment influence) which together got this fledgling nation off the ground. For Washington, an Episcopal vestryman, Christianity was the religion he saw as most supportive of our nation’s political health. But he insisted that faith be voluntarily embraced, not imposed by the state.

Washington knew that government is not its own creator. It is fed by a “spring” and is unsustainable without that source. He said, “It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” But virtue and morality are also not their own creators. Washington warned us not to “expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” While morality is the necessary spring for popular government, religious principle is the necessary spring for morality.

In 1776, as a delegate from Massachusetts, John Adams wrote that “statesmen, my dear sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” Two decades later (October 11, 1798), President Adams said in an address to the military, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Adams carried a “two wings” understanding of our founding to his later years when he wrote, in 1813, to his old enemy and current friend Thomas Jefferson, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were… the general principles of Christianity… and the general principles of English and American liberty.” In 1835, after traveling throughout the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”


Good government cannot create itself. Faith in God is the soil from which national morality grows and eventually becomes the “spring” from which good government can flow back to the people. Christian virtue has never found perfect expression in the humans who seek it, Jesus excepted. But the qualities of faith, courage, patience, stamina, loyalty, resilience, hard work, family fidelity and respect for life prevailed back then to a greater degree than they do today, in my opinion. That is what founded our nation, more than politics and parchments.

Our Founders did not wear rose-colored glasses and neither do I when recalling their times. But they believed that faith in God beats faith in government every time. America was founded on two wings (faith and reason) as a Christian nation with a secular government. Today, that’s ancient history. The “spring” is too polluted for us to regard our nation as Christian in any meaningful sense and our popular government reflects that reality. Sorry.


Photo Credits:

George Washington

Betsy Ross Flag


The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.


About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.


  1. Brett Taege  October 1, 2012

    This post more than any has hit home for me. The question is, am I strong enough, and dedicated enough to make anything change? That is yet to be seen.


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