From the Pilgrims …
“America was founded as a Christian nation.” “America was founded on the principle of religious freedom.” “The founding fathers were evangelical Christians.” “The founding fathers were deists.” These are just some of the conflicting statements that continue to surface in our world today.
In a society that likes simple short answers (e.g., Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), we do not like to study in depth the issues we have. This article is not designed to give any opinions on the idea. The Pilgrims who came and landed at Plymouth Rock did come to the new world to escape the corrupting influence of Holland and Britain, so it is safe to say they wanted to practice Christianity as their consciences demanded. But they did not tolerate any who had differing ideas of how the Christian life was to be lived. Most would agree they had a “Christian” colony.
After that the issue becomes filled with differing ideas. To illustrate the complexities of the issues I would commend to your attention the following book by Thomas Kidd: Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2017).
… to Ben Franklin
The book begins with the classic story of Benjamin Franklin, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, rising to ask for the sake of unity the sessions begin with prayer to the “Father of lights.”
For Franklin, who is universally considered to be a deist, to make such a request indicates the conflicting thoughts and ideas these men had. Interestingly enough, Kidd states the motion was tabled.
The book then proceeds to detail the conflicting ideas Franklin lived with throughout his long life. Beginning with his “Calvinistic” upbringing, through his stages of rejecting that belief, Kidd ends with Franklin’s role as the statesman for the newly-independent United States. His interactions with the leading intellectuals of Great Britain and France are highlighted. So is his lifelong business relationship and friendship with George Whitefield, the leading revivalist preacher of the day. As a publisher, Franklin knew more Scripture passages than many an evangelical Christian today.
Will you have all the answers you want when you finish the book? I highly doubt it. But I hope you will have learned the religious environment of America during the Revolution and early years of nationhood is filled with complex and even contradictory issues and ideas that make the subject worthy of study and understanding – not just a slogan on social media.