That’s a provocative title I put there, but it’s true. “But, Matt, this is a Christian nation, what are you talking about?” I know others are saying. Hear me out as I explain to you why many of the Founding Fathers were not Christians and why, in the end, it’s irrelevant.
But first, let us define a list of Founding Fathers. Who are the Founding Fathers of the United States? That depends on who you ask. Some say the drafters of the Declaration, some say drafters of the Constitution. Various groups of historians have various lists of who are included in a list of the Founding Fathers. Me? I’m going to keep the list small as this is just a simple blog post. Renowned historian Richard Morris in believed the most important Founding Fathers were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. So, I will roll with this smaller list as I describe their faiths.
John Adams – Adams grew up in the Puritan tradition, specifically a Congregationalist. That said, by the time he reached adulthood, Adams was an avowed Unitarian. He had rejected the divinity of Christ as well as the traditional trinitarian viewpoint of God. Later in life, he would call himself a Christian Unitarian – but by continuing to deny the divinity of Christ, he was not a Christian by any traditional definition of the faith.
Benjamin Franklin – Benjamin Franklin appeared to be a Christian, and at times referred to himself as a Christian. Many of his views on the articles of faith which we as Christians hold dear are lost to history, however in Franklin’s autobiography written in 1771 Franklin did not refer to himself as a Christian – but as a deist. Meaning? He believed in some generic concept of God, but not necessarily in Christianity. According to some historians, Franklin considered himself a Christian despite denying the divinity of Christ. However, a deist who denies the divinity of Christ is not adhering to Christian doctrine by any traditional definition of the faith.
Alexander Hamilton – In Hamilton’s youth, he was active in the Presbyterian faith. During the period following his mother’s death, his arrival in the United States, and the American Revolution, Hamilton was nominally a Christian. He would attend church very infrequently, but did claim to believe. Biographer Ron Chernow, whose biography is considered one of the most complete and accurate, believed Hamilton was most likely a deist. However, later in life Hamilton displayed greater religiosity and his attendance at church became more frequent. In the end, it’s unclear if Hamilton believed when he would have been a founding leader of this nation, but by the end it appeared he came to Christ.
John Jay – Jay was unabashedly a Christian. He was very active in his local Anglican, later Episcopal church. He also was the President of the American Bible Society from 1821-1827. He wrote at length about the importance of his faith in Christ and it’s role in being a good leader. So, he was definitely a Christian for the entirety of his life.
Thomas Jefferson – Jefferson was a vocal deist. He did not believe in the divinity of Christ and did not believe any of the miracles of the Bible occurred. He wrote his own version of the Gospel story removing the miracles of Christ entirely from them (you can read it here).
James Madison – Historians are fairly evenly divided on whether Madison was a Christian or a deist. In his youth, he was active in the local church. As an adult? Historians say there were very little outward displays of his faith in anything. As such, after reading all his writings, most are still divided.
George Washington – Washington was active in the Anglican/Episcopal church for most of his life. However, some historians believed he actively avoided church on Sundays when communion was being administered because he had regularly avoided taking it. In the end, however, most historians accept that Washington believed in the basic tenets of the Christian faith for most of his life.
So, from this brief look into the main founding fathers, we find 2 definitely Christian Founding Fathers; 3 definitely deist Founding Fathers; and 2 who appeared to have waffled in faith with historians being divided.
So, what does that mean? It means that yes, the Founding Fathers were not all Christian. The followup question is, does this even matter? I say no.
The Bible clearly states that all government is put in place by God (John 19:11, Romans 13:1). It also is clear that God will use whatever government exists for His will (Jeremiah 25:8-9, Acts 4:27-28). Tim Challies has more about what scripture says about government here. But both of those two facts should make us remember something important: God is sovereign, He is in charge, and whoever founded our nation – He will use that for His purposes. It could have been founded by people who are Ásatrú, Hindu, and Buddhist without a single Christian among them, it’s irrelevant. What matters is that Christ is in charge on His throne. God rules above all. The faiths of the founders matter in as much as we as Christians long for all to be saved in Christ, but in terms of whether it makes our country better or worse, it matters not.
The view that God is specifically blessing or protecting America is silly. God controls all governments of the world and has since the first governments were instituted. He controls it all. He allows whomever is ruling to rule. We must pray for them. We must hope what is best for them. We must also pray for our countrymen as well.