More on How the Unitarianism of the Key Founders Impacted Political Theology

This is something I’ve been pressed on by some co-bloggers of mine. I’m answering now in part because I think the Glenn Beck rally in some profound way reflects why the American Founders driving the Trinity from politics mattered.

In my last post I wrote,

… What was the main area that connects all of the “key Founders” in their personal and political theology: The idea that there is a Providence and future state of rewards and punishments. The other doctrinal issues (especially whether Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity) where religions differ are superfluous and insignificant.

That’s the lowest common denominator of “religion” that all good men believe in. That’s why Calvinists, Swedenborgs, Jews and, today, Mormons (perhaps even Muslims; at least the good Muslims who peacefully demean themselves under America’s civil law, which I would argue is the overwhelming majority of them) can feel communion with the God who “founded” America.

My American Creation coblogger the Rev. Brian Tubbs responded:

Jon, I don’t agree with your assessment that doctrinal issues, including the deity of Jesus, are “superfluous and insignificant.” I think some of those issues are crucial, and many of the Founders would’ve likewise considered them significant. It’s unlikely, for example, that you’d get Noah Webster to refer to the deity of Christ as superfluous.

But I agree with you that monotheism combined with a future state of rewards and punishments was a common unifier, esp when you add TVD’s clarification about God-given rights.

[Let me note as an aside that Webster may not have been an orthodox Christian during the Founding era when he was applauding the US Constitution as an “empire of reason” and looking forward to the progress of the French Revolution. But his statements in the early 19th Century do certainly reflect those of an orthodox Christian Americanist.]

When examining the words of the “theistic rationalists” or “Christian-unitarian-universalists” J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, we see they wavered in their theology between bitterly rejecting the Trinity and orthodox doctrines as “corruptions” on the one hand (if that’s the case then how could they feel communion with Trinitarians?) and terming those doctrines insignificant on the other (in that sense they COULD feel communion with Trinitarians).

I don’t get any of the bitter rejection of the Trinity from Madison and Washington and I get less of it from Franklin than from TJ and JA. But I do sense the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines utterly insignificant to GW and JM. I judge this chiefly because, in their public AND private words, their God talk, JM and GW, while commonly speaking of “Providence” virtually ignored the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines. So if we were going to draw a lowest common denominator among all five of those “key Founders” perhaps we could say rejection of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine is a tenet. But to include JM and GW might be a stretch, even though I personally believe both of them privately rejected orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

It would be more cautious then to form an LCD of those five around Providence, where the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, etc. were superfluous and insignificant. And this is where their PERSONAL RELIGIOUS BELIEFS connect with their PUBLIC POLITICAL THEOLOGY.

Now, many of the 2nd tier orthodox Trinitarian Founders like Roger Sherman, Sam Adams, John Witherspoon likewise signed onto this non-sectarian Providentialist PUBLIC political theology while personally holding orthodox Trinitarian convictions as necessary for salvation an whatnot.

But they weren’t the “key Founders.” They weren’t leading the show. Had they been, they could have formulated an orthodox Trinitarian political theology. They could have specified, when speaking on behalf of America, that the God whom they invoked was the Triune God of the Bible, perhaps put a Covenant to Him in the US Constitution. Or even if they stuck with the “no religious test clause,” still made clear in the US Constitution that the God to whom they would pay homage was the Triune God of the Bible.

But they didn’t. Instead we get a more generic inclusive Providence one that could unite evangelicals, Mormons, Jews and Muslims in political theological communion. The Triune God of the Bible could not do that.

So I hope that better answers the question as the why the non-Trinitarian religious convictions of the Founders made a difference.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to More on How the Unitarianism of the Key Founders Impacted Political Theology

  1. OFT says:

    Jon wrote: But I do sense the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines utterly insignificant to GW and JM.

    I would agree with your assessment on the former, but not the latter. Anyone who walks out of Communion for ten years [GW] is not an evangelical. Communion is what Jesus specifically mandated for his followers to take part in, signifying the remembrance of Christ’s vicarious blood atonement for our sins.

    The evidence supports JM was Orthodox, yet, kept his religious beliefs quiet after he left college. His silence has no doubt raised serious questions about his specific beliefs. However, what we have on JM is that he supported Orthodoxy, not unlike a legislator in John Calvin’s Geneva; against free inquiry, which is the start of infidelity:

    [B]ut I find them [book reviews] loose in their principles[,] encourage[r]s of free inquiry even such as destroys the most essential Truths, Enemies to serious religion…” [bold face mine]

    -To William Bradford, Dec. 1, 1773. The Papers of James Madison, Vol. I. 16 Mar 1751 – 16 Dec. 1779. Edited by William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal. 1962, by the University of Chicago Press.
    http://ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com/2009/12/finally-to-blogosphere-james-madisons_31.html and http://ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com/2009/12/finally-to-blogosphere-james-madisons.html

    It is correct JM stopped making fundamentalist comments in the late 18th and 19th century, and destroyed most of his correspondence. Maybe he destroyed his letters to cover up what he believed, which is why is was silent about religion.

    Gospels:

    Mat. Ch 1st Pollution[:] “Christ did by the power of his Godhead purify our nature from all the pollution of our Ancestors” v. 5. &c

    “Virgin Mary had no other Child (probably) but our Saviour.” v. 25

    “Omnisciency–God’s foreknowledge doth not compel, but permits to be done.” Acts, ch. II. v. 23.

    “Christ’s divinity appears by St. John, ch. XX. v. 28.”

    “Resurrection testified and witnessed by the Apostles. Acts, ch. IV. v. 33.”

    [Th]e Acts:

    Ch. 22. “Carnal Reason, when against the command of God, should be laid by”. v. 19

    The editor believes these notes, with the exception of the extracts from Proverbs, were quoted from William Burkitt’s, Expository Notes, with Practical Observations, on the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, printed in London in 1724. JM most likely wrote these notes while a student at the College of New Jersey.

    “Notes on Commentary on the Bible” found in The Papers of James Madison, p. 51-59. Vol. I. 16 Mar 1751 – 16 Dec. 1779. Edited by William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal. 1962, by the University of Chicago Press.

    It could be that he rejected everything he copied, but I disagree with that assertion. He obviously researched these texts to verify their existence.

    This first quote appears affirming the Trinity, as this is what Paul used in Romans, and Colossians, but JM quotes Matthew, chapter 1; that word, “Godhead” isn’t in the text, so why would he use it unless he believed in the Trinity? He also writes, “purify our nature from all the pollution of our Ancestors v. 5. &c.” Sounds like he understood Total Depravity. How else could our nature be polluted by our ancestors?

    Jon wrote: Now, many of the 2nd tier orthodox Trinitarian Founders like Roger Sherman, Sam Adams, John Witherspoon likewise signed onto this non-sectarian Providentialist PUBLIC political theology while personally holding orthodox Trinitarian convictions as necessary for salvation an whatnot..
    But they weren’t the “key Founders
    .”

    I’m more of the opinion James Madison was not a key founder, or at least not the status of Witherspoon, Sherman, and Adams. Witherspoon’s leadership is unparalled in Congress for seven years.

    “He served on over 100 committees, most notably the powerful standing committees, the board of war and the committee on secret correspondence or foreign affairs. He spoke often in debate; helped draft the Articles of Confederation; helped organize the executive departments; played a major role in shaping foreign policy; and drew up the instructions for the peace commissioners. He fought against the flood of paper money, and opposed the issuance of bonds without provision for their amortization.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Witherspoon

    James Madison never signed the DOI, was against the Bill of Rights, which his position was overruled by his State, and he was not the “Father of the Constitution,” a false label put upon him. Charles Pinckney is the true Father of the Constitution, his recommendations more resembled the Constitution. His recommendations were the Virginia Plan, delivered to Congress by Edmund Randolph. JM should not be on the first tier, nor should there be a tier.

  2. OFT says:

    Another thought would be, if JM destroyed his correspondence because he no longer believed what he wrote, why did he not destroy these notes he made in college? The editor claims JM destroyed the rest of his correspondence to William Bradford from 1176 to 1788. All this is conjecture anyway.

  3. Jon Rowe says:

    OFT: I find Bishop Meade’s assessment of Madison more persuasive than yours and as such I will continue to assert my conclusions accordingly.

    “I was never at Mr. Madison’s but once, and then our conversation took such a turn-though not designed on my part-as to call forth some expressions and arguments which left the impression on my mind that his creed was not strictly regulated by the Bible.”

    http://tinyurl.com/24jlj6f

    “His religious feeling, however, seems to have been short-lived. His political associations with those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change his creed, yet subjected him to the general suspicion of it….”

    http://tinyurl.com/279hm5o

  4. OFT says:

    You’re right Jon, we all have an opinion and should be allowed to express it without getting attacked or belittled by someone who disagrees with it. The substance, not form, of the argument should be examined by all of us. I happen to take JM’s words superior, rather than someone else’s.

    However, there is no doubt JM stopped commenting on his religious beliefs in the late 18th century, with an apparent change in theology.

    I’ve been thinking about JM’s quote to the Indians, “father of us all” in 1812. KOI brought up something to the effect some Indians weren’t pagan, and that the Great Spirit was their only God. If that is true, the context of that quote changes to a Christian context, or else JM may have condoned paganism, one of the many pagan deities.

    If it is a Christian context, JM, GW, and TJ, could be referring to the Christian God that is the Father of us all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s