The author of The American Creed tells “the story of our nation’s historical encounters with God and culture” (Peter J. Gomes, New York Times bestselling author).
Today’s dispute over the line between church and state (or the lack thereof) is neither the first nor the fiercest in our history. In a revelatory look at our nation’s birth, Forrest Church recreates our first great culture war—a tumultuous, nearly forgotten conflict that raged from George Washington’s presidency to James Monroe’s.
Religion was the most divisive issue in the nation’s early presidential elections. Battles raged over numerous issues while the bible and the Declaration of Independence competed for American affections. The religious political wars reached a vicious peak during the War of 1812; the American victory drove New England’s Christian right to withdraw from electoral politics, thereby shaping our modern sense of church-state separation. No longer entangled, both church and state flourished.
Forrest Church has written a rich, page-turning history, a new vision of our earliest presidents’ beliefs that stands as a reminder and a warning for America today.
“An illuminating study of the great tangle of our time. If we look back to our early years, we may well find a way forward.” —Jon Meacham, #1 New York Times bestselling author of His Truth is Marching On
“In this beautifully crafted and timely work, the aptly named Church takes us through the complex thoughts and actions of the nation’s founders in a way that will give pause to most readers . . . This is an important work that delights and informs.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Those who think that the past holds clear and reassuring lessons for today will be hard put to find them here. In this beautifully crafted and timely work, the aptly named Church (minister of Manhattan's Unitarian All Souls Church and author or editor of 22 books) takes us through the complex thoughts and actions of the nation's founders in a way that will give pause to most readers. Each of the nation's first five presidents saw the relationship between government and religion differently; each thought and acted in surprising ways not always in harmony with their private beliefs. What united them, says Church, was a deep commitment to the nation's welfare as they defined it. This civil religion, grounded in Protestant moral convictions, often took distinctive form, e.g., Washington lashing out at clerical interference in government and James Madison declaring four national fast days. The issues roiling their day were not ours, but they were equally fraught and equally unresolved. Church, who's too severe and present-minded about John Adams, makes clear that the tangled historic links between religion and politics were built into American history from the start and are unlikely to be dissolved. This is an important work that delights and informs.