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September 9, 2000
Column #993

SHOULD POLITICAL CANDIDATES TALK ABOUT GOD?

     In a sermon delivered extemporaneously in a Detroit black church, Sen. Joe Lieberman said he hoped his nomination as a Jew encouraged people "to feel more free to talk about their faith," because "there must be a place for faith in America's public life."

     "As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purpose."

     Those comments touched off a firestorm of criticism, even from Jews. Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a letter: "We do not think that religion belongs in the political campaign and the political arena....We feel very strongly, and we hope you would agree, that appealing along religious lines or belief in God is contrary to the American ideal. The First Amendment requires that government neither support one religion over another, nor the religious over the non-religious."

     Nonsense. Mr. Foxman needs to read American history. In fact, Lieberman quoted Washington's 1796 Farewell Address to never suppose that "morality can be maintained without religion." 

     Washington's faith, nominal in his youth, deepened on battlefields. In 1755 during a French and Indian War battle, every officer but Washington were shot. Afterwards, he wrote his brother, "But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and had two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, though death was leveling my companions on every side of me!"

     As he took command of the Continental Army in 1775, he said he expected all officers and soldiers "to attend Divine service," but with their arms, "prepared for immediate action, if called upon."

     During the freezing winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, when soldiers were "without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie on, without shoes," as Washington put it, a Quaker named Isaac Potts, who did not believe in war, came across the General kneeling and praying aloud, "interceding for his beloved country. With tones of gratitude...he adored that exuberant goodness which, from the depth of obscurity, had exalted him to the head of a great nation, and that nation fighting at fearful odds..."

     Potts told his wife, "Till now I have thought that a Christian and a soldier were characters incompatible; but if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken, and still more shall I be disappointed if God does not through him perform some great thing for this country."

     When the French entered the war as an ally, Washington set aside a day for America "for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness, and celebrating the important event, which we owe to His divine interposition." 

     In 1781, Washington's army defeated a wing of the British force. Furious, Lord Cornwallis' larger army pursued the American troops, who crossed the Catawba River. A storm suddenly arose which caused the river to be uncrossable for days. Two weeks later the same thing happened at the Yadkin River. Cornwallis watched the American troops getting out of the river on the other side, but before the Royal Army could cross, "a sudden flood ran the river over its banks, preventing the British from crossing," according to a remarkable new book, "America's God and Country," by William J. Federer. 

     Small wonder that at his Inauguration on April 30, 1789, Washington placed his hand on the Bible, opened to Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy, which begins, "If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands, I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth." However, the chapter warns that if his followers "do not obey the Lord your God," the Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies."

     Washington said, "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."

     The ADL whines that American atheists "should not be made to feel inferior, or left out of the (political) process." It is time for the ADL to go back and read the Hebrew Bible, starting with Deuteronomy 28. 

     And I commend Federer's book which is a brilliant compilation of history and profound quotes of America's noble heritage. Curiously, there is not one word about William Federer in the book. I can add that he is running for Congress against Richard Gephardt, the Minority Leader of the House. It is a long shot, but I'm betting Federer is a praying man.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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