Monday, October 15, 2012
The Most Religious American President?
By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service
SWARTZ CREEK MI (ANS) -- Election Day is upcoming. Which of our presidents was the most religious -- anyway, the most observant -- is a topic that has relevance, perhaps more so when “social issues” inhabit headlines. Lest we judge, lest we be judged, we should acknowledge that it is an open question with no definitive answer, yet a fit topic for discussion. It is interesting to view the historical evidence and consider verifiable records.
I addressed the topic last President’s Day, and it proved to be the most popular –- or at least the recipient of the most “hits” and reactions -– in the several years I have been blogging and writing devotional essays. Are people hungry for intellectual “parlor games"... or wanting to connect the dots between political leaders and Christian faith?
In my case I hold Theodore Roosevelt in particular regard. A year ago my biography of him, BULLY! (Regnery History, 440 pages, illustrated entirely by vintage political cartoons), was published, and I devoted a chapter to TR’s faith. (Indeed, I am working on a full book on the theme.) One thing I have come to appreciate about TR is something that largely has been neglected by history books. That is, the aspect of his fervent Christian faith. In some ways, he might be seen as the most Christian and the most religious of all presidents; and by “religious” I mean most observant.
This is (admittedly) subjective; it is difficult to compute and compile lists of factors. TR’s name at the top of the list of religiously observant presidents might surprise some people, yet that surprise would itself bear witness to the nature of his faith: privately held, but permeating countless speeches, writings, and acts. (A step out of character for this man who otherwise exhibited most of multi-faceted personality to the world!) His favorite verse was Micah 6:8 -– “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
He was of the Dutch Reformed Church. He participated in missions work with his father, a noted philanthropist. He taught weekly Sunday School classes during his four years at Harvard. He wrote for Christian publications.
He called his bare-the-soul speech announcing his principles when running in 1912, “A Confession of Faith.” Later he closed perhaps the most important speech of his life, the clarion-call acceptance of the Progressive Party nomination that year, with the words, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” That convention featured evangelical hymns and closed with “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
He titled one his books “Foes of Our Own Household” (after Matthew 10:36) and another, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part.” He once wrote an article for The Ladies’ Home Journal, “Nine Reasons Why Men Should Go To Church.” After TR left the White House, he was offered university presidencies and many other prominent jobs. He chose instead to become Contributing Editor of The Outlook, a relatively small Christian weekly magazine.
He was invited to deliver the Earl Lectures at Pacific Theological Seminary in 1911, but declined due to a heavy schedule. Knowing he would be near Berkeley on a speaking tour, however, he offered to deliver the lectures if he might be permitted to speak extemporaneously, not having time to prepare written texts of the five lectures, as was the school’s customary requirement. It was agreed, and TR spoke for 90 minutes each evening -– from the heart and without notes -– on the Christian’s role in modern society.
... and so on. TR was not perfect, but he knew the One who is. Fond of saying that he would “speak softly and carry a big stick,” it truly can be said, also, that Theodore Roosevelt hid the Word in his heart, and acted boldly. He was a great American because he was thoroughgoing good man; and he was a good man because he was a humble believer.
Remember Theodore Roosevelt on his birthday, Oct 27, days before the election. Remember him every day -– we are not seeing his kind any more.
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A clip from a memorable movie of the 1970s, starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen, depicting Theodore Roosevelt handling a terrorist situation in north Africa during his presidency. Brian Keith as TR.
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.