Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Jon Rowe here. A little while ago I refuted this article by Bryan Fischer that claimed America’s Founders as evangelical Christians. I’m not sure if he’s replying to me in this article (rather he replies to some unnamed secularist whom he insults); but he doubles down on an error all too commonly made by Christian Nationalist history revisionists.

It’s the idea that, “[o]f the 55 framers of the Constitution, we know as a matter of historical record that 51 or 52 of them swore on oath to evangelical statements of faith,…” Indeed that, “these men swore an oath before Almighty God that they believed the Bible to be God’s revelation to mankind and that they themselves believed Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and that they trusted in him for their eternal salvation.”

I refute this myth in more detail here. Bottom line: This figure comes from the late ME Bradford of the University of Dallas. And 1. Christian Nationalists like Fischer distort what Bradford originally found and 2. what Bradford originally found is not very useful. Bradford did NOT find 51 or 52 “members” swearing “oaths” to their church’s official doctrines. Rather he found some kind of nominal connection or affiliation with a church that professed orthodoxy.

Even taking an oath was sometimes or often done as a means to a secular end. For instance, Thomas Jefferson, when he became a vestryman, DID take oaths to orthodox doctrines that he privately rejected, because in Virginia that position had secular social and legal functions to it. Indeed, I have found a lot of Founders quite ticked off at having to take sectarian oaths in order to be involved in secular political and work matters such that record abounds in anti-creedal, anti-oath sentiments. This explains, in part, their rationale for Art. VI., Cl. 3 of the US Constitution.

And it’s not just “key” Founders like Jefferson to whom this applies. Again, I don’t know for sure what all or the vast majority of them exactly believed because the record, other than showing formal, nominal affiliations with orthodox churches (which Jefferson and other deistic and unitarian minded Founders had) is not crystal clear. And neither does anyone else for that reason. But take someone like William Livingston, as an example of a non-key Founder. He was the first elected governor of New Jersey and a delegate from NJ at the Constitutional Convention. He was identified by Bradford as a Presbyterian. But I have found radically anti-creedal and theologically unitarian sentiments from Livingston which I blogged about here and here.

This footnote to ME Bradford does not prove what the Christian Nationalists want it to prove.