Dispatches from the Creation Wars

George Washington & Communion

George Washington’s words and deeds belie that he was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. Washington believed in God, indeed believed in an active personal Providence. However, the historical record casts doubt on his orthodoxy. The following is what Washington’s own minister had to say about his religious convictions. The factual background is Washington systematically avoided communion in his church. Many nominal Christians of the Founding era did the same. These were the folks who did not believe what communion symbolically represented: Christ’s Atonement.

As he wrote:

With respect to the enquiry you make, I can only state the following facts; that as the Pastor of the Episcopal Church (an humble assistant minister to its Rector, the Rt. Rev. Dr. White) observing that on Sacrament Sundays, Gen’l Washington, immediately after the Desk and Pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation, always leaving Mrs. Washington with the communicants, she invariably being one, I considered it my duty, in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations, who invariably turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President, and, as such, he received it. A few days after, in conversation with, I believe, a Senator of the U. S., he told me he had dined the day before with the President, who, in the course of conversation at the table, said, that on the preceding Sunday, he had received a very just reproof from the pulpit, for always leaving the church before the administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his integrity and candour; that he had never considered the influence of his example; that he would never again give cause for the repetition of the reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly, he afterwards never came on the morning of Sacrament Sunday, tho’, at other times, a constant attendant in the morning. Of the assertion made by Dr. Wilson in the conclusion of a paragraph of your letter, I cannot say I have not the least recollection of such a conversation, but had I made use of the expression stated, it could not have extended farther than the expression of private individual opinion. That Washington was a professing Christian is evident from his regular attendance in our church; but, Sir, I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace. This, Sir, is all that I think it proper to state on paper. In a conversation, more latitude being allowed, more light might, perhaps, be thrown upon it. I trust, however, Sir, you will not introduce my name in print.

I am, Sir,
Yrs.
James Abercrombie

Now, this might not be dispositive if Washington’s words show he believed in the infalliblity of the Bible, Jesus Christ as personal savior and the only way to God, and other orthodox Trinitarian doctrines. However, those words don’t exist. Rather, his words show he believed in a Providential God, and the rest, a mysterty.