Openingby Marlin Detweiler

Feature Article I Believe George Washington was a Christian by Peter Lillback

Educational Helpsby Laurie Detweiler

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February 2010




When Peter Lillback first told me of his book project seeking to make the case that George Washington was a Christian, I must admit I was a bit skeptical. He was kind enough to summarize his findings in our feature article this month. I think you’ll find the article intriguing. Enjoy.



Feature Article


I Believe George Washington was a Christian


Paul Boller wrote, “Broadly speaking, of course, Washington can be classified as a Deist.”[1] Most recent scholars have followed this perspective: “A luke-warm Episcopalian,”[2] a “warm Deist,”[3] “not a deeply religious man,”[4] “not particularly ardent in his faith,”[5] “one who avoided as was the Deist custom, the word ‘God.’”[6]

Nevertheless, Washington’s description of his faith is different, repeatedly using words like “ardent,” “fervent,” “pious,” and “devout.” In fact, he described himself as one of the deepest men of faith of his day when he confessed to a clergyman, “No Man has a more perfect Reliance on the alwise, and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have nor thinks his aid more necessary.”[7]

Rather than avoid the word “God,” on the first national Thanksgiving under the U.S. Constitution, he wrote, “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”[8] Although he never claimed to be a “Deist” in his voluminous writings, he often mentioned religion, Christianity, and the Gospel. He spoke of Christ as “the divine Author of our blessed religion.” He encouraged missionaries who were seeking to “Christianize” the “aboriginals.” He wrote in a private letter, “on my honor and the faith of a Christian.” He publically wrote of “the blessed religion revealed in the Word of God.” He encouraged seekers to learn “the religion of Jesus Christ.” He even said to his soldiers, “To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian.” Not bad for a “luke-warm” Episcopalian!


Arguments for Washington’s Unbelief


Clearly, Washington’s faith has been denied by recent scholars. The scholarly consensus since the Washington bicentennial in 1932 is that he was a Deist, a non-religious person who believes in a remote and impersonal God. But when the evidence is considered, is it clear that Washington was a Deist? Typically, the evidence employed to substantiate Washington’s deism includes: he avoided the name of Jesus Christ; he used Deist titles for the name of God; he never seriously referred to the Bible; he was a Mason; he was a slave owner; he had an alleged tryst with Sally Fairfax, a married woman. A careful study, however, shows these arguments fail to remove the legitimacy of Washington’s faith.

Washington venerated the name of Jesus Christ, using it thousands of times in worship, although rarely doing so in his commonplace writings. Yet this practice is consistent with Christians to this day. Washington’s titles for deity are not those of Deists as claimed. Instead, they are the terms of the orthodox clergy of his day—some 95 different ones in all—and names that Deists did not use.

Moreover, Washington was Biblically literate, referring to the Bible from Genesis to Revelation hundreds of times. He even publically endorsed an evangelical study Bible.

The bylaws of the Masonic Order of Washington’s day prohibited “stupid atheists and deists” from being members! For Washington to have been a Mason then was actually an evidence of being a Christian, not of being an unbeliever!

Tragically, Washington was a slave-owner. Yet he alone of all of our Founders who held slaves had the courage to advocate the abolition of slavery and to provide for their manumission and support in his will.

Washington’s relationship with Sally Fairfax reveals his emotions were moved at a vulnerable point in his young military life, but their honor remained unsullied, and his friendship with the Fairfax family was never tarnished.

In sum, to prove a vital faith does not require perfection, a standard needed only for a hagiography. Instead, a vital faith demands an authenticity of faith and character over the course of a life. So while Washington was not perfect, he was a man consistently concerned about faith, character and honor, referring to them hundreds of times.


Arguments for Washington’s Christian Faith


The evidence of Washington’s religious life reveals a vast array of data that substantiates Washington’s vital life of faith.


  1. Washington’s family was explicitly Christian and actively Anglican. His childhood education was conducted under Anglican tutors.
  2. His military career was framed by morning and evening prayers following the Christian “divine service” of the Book of Common Prayer. Washington’s military vocabulary manifested Christian theological terms: pardon, redemption, atonement, grace, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, justification, imputation of guilt, appeal to heaven.
  3. He married a devout Christian and trained their adopted children under Anglican clergy, buying them Christian text books, prayer books, and Bibles. Martha and their adopted grandchildren affirmed that Washington was a Christian.
  4. He governed in the Anglican Church, taking vows to its Christian worship and doctrines. His attendance, contributions, and involvement in issues concerning church government and religion in the House of Burgesses were exemplary. His ecclesiastical vocabulary was extensive.
  5. He sponsored eight children for Christian baptism, something that Thomas Jefferson would not do. Jefferson’s Unitarianism prevented him from taking the required vows to the Christian faith. Washington did not hesitate to take these Christian vows.
  6. He encouraged the clergy and chaplains as a military, ecclesiastical, and civil leader. When such were not available, he performed their functions, leading in prayers. He conducted the Christian funeral for General Braddock in 1755. His granddaughter wrote, “His mottoes were, ‘Deeds Not Words’; and ‘For God and My Country.’”
  7. As a reader, listener and collector of Christian sermons, his vocabulary was replete with theology. He writes of God some 140 times, the divine 95 times, heaven 133 times, Providence 270 times, and uses various other honorific titles for God some 95 times. He alludes to approximately 200 different biblical texts, some of them scores of times, and does so in ways that show he was remarkably biblically literate.
  8. He was a praying man, evidenced by a prayer book he ordered to fit in his pocket. More than 100 prayers in his own hand are found throughout his private and public letters. Even his enemies acknowledged his prayer life.
  9. Washington was aware of human spirituality, referring to the human spirit, and acknowledging the Holy Spirit and His work. Accordingly, he manifests concern for prayer, dependence on Providence, and trust in God.
  10. Washington identified himself as a Christian when he freely wrote, “On my honor and the faith of a Christian . . .”[9] He called on his army to be Christian soldiers: “. . . The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.”[10]
  11. Washington never claimed to be a Deist and criticized Deistic thought and ethics. Thomas Paine, the patriotic writer of Common Sense, was Washington’s friend. But Paine, the critic of revealed religion in the Age of Reason, received Washington’s silence. Instead, Washington’s letters manifest a commitment to revelation joined with a “rational ground for belief.” He described himself as “no sceptic on normal occasions.”
  12. Contemporaries such as Major-General Henry Lee, Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, Reverend Jonathan Boucher, President James Madison and historians like Aaron Bancroft, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jared Sparks, and James K. Paulding considered Washington to be a Christian.


To conclude, Christian faith must be an integral part of our description of our Founding Father, for Christianity was an integral part of Washington’s life.


Peter Lillback


Dr. Peter A. Lillback is President and Professor of Historical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary located in Philadelphia. Dr. Lillback also serves as the President of The Providence Forum, the non-profit organization that is committed to preserving and promoting America’s spiritual roots of religious and civil liberties. He just completed his service at Proclamation Presbyterian Church PCA after nearly twenty years. He is married and has two grown daughters.



Educational Helps


On February 15th many will celebrate the national holiday known as President’s Day. Originally known as Washington’s Birthday, this holiday was instituted by Congress in 1880. At first the holiday was celebrated on Washington’s original birthday, February 22nd. Eventually the holiday would shift to become President’s Day. As I am, you might be old enough to remember this change. Please consider having your children do a little internet research on the holiday.


In the day and time in which we live it is hard to have our children appreciate the respect that should be given to our leaders, even when we do not agree with them. This holiday provides an opportunity to discuss this obligation we have as Christians with our children. Reading Romans 13:1–7 with them is a good starting point. Celebrating holidays like this can be great teaching moments.


We have included a drawing project from Gilbert Stuart’s painting of George Washington. We hope this fun project for President’s Day will help you enjoy this holiday. Click here to download the project.


Laurie Detweiler



Free Offers


Free Chocolate with February Order
Wilbur Buds are back by popular demand—especially from our office staff. It’s rumored that Milton Hershey copied these delightful morsels in the creation of his kisses. We at Veritas Press pride ourselves in being highly sophisticated connoisseurs of fine chocolate and would like to share the benefit of our experience with you. With orders of $100 or more in the month of February we will include a box of these delights for the asking. You must ask. When you place your order simply say, “Please include the chocolates,” or “Give me the chocolate and no one gets hurt,” or something along those lines. (If ordering on the web, type “Chocolates” in the Special Instructions box during checkout and specify milk chocolate or semi-sweet.)


Not Quite Free Copy of George Washington’s Sacred Fire

Maybe your curiosity was piqued by our feature article, and you would like to read more of Dr. Lillback’s writing on the subject of George Washington’s faith. Here’s your chance. You may have a copy of George Washington’s Sacred Fire with any order during February for the asking at a 50% discount. That’s almost $12.50 savings off the retail price of $24.95! If ordering on the web, search for item #903000 and add it to your order. The discount will be applied automatically.





Q. I am interested in the diploma program, but my child has never had Latin and only wants to take a modern language like Spanish? Can we still enroll in the program?

A. In the diploma program we offer four different options, and they each have different standards. However, Latin is a requirement, to some degree, for each of them. The Veritas Press diploma program utilizes the classical, Christian model for our standards. Part of recovering the classical portion in that educational model includes gaining a familiarity with classical languages, such as Latin and Greek. We do have options which require just a single year of Latin. We would recommend that regardless, because even an introductory knowledge of Latin will make learning Spanish considerably easier. You can learn more about our diploma and yearly certification program by clicking here.


Q. I have been looking on your website at the model course of study you have for the grammar school years. My husband and I want to use a catechism with our family. How do we work that in and what is the best catechism to use?

A. We recommend using the Westminster Shorter Catechism. We have the catechism put to music, which makes it really easy to memorize. Click here to see the first of all four of these CDs. We do not recommend the Children’s Catechism even for very young children as we have found it is confusing to switch later. We have also found they can memorize this one, because it was originally written for children and those “dull of brain.” (Such language we would hardly use today.) There are 107 questions and answers with scripture references. If you divide that up over your children’s grammar years, it is approximately 15 per year. Start memorizing them in Kindergarten with the Scripture reference and keep going until you are done. As your children get in about third grade, it is a good idea to discuss the meaning of the questions with them and see how they can apply it to their life. Mindless memorization is not what we are after.


Editor Note: you can view the model course of study mentioned above here.


Please submit any questions you’d like answered here to





Veritas Press Course Registration for 2010-11 School Year

Hard to believe, but it is time to begin course registrations in Veritas Press Scholars Academy (VPSA) for next fall. Our explosive growth in our live teacher-led courses has been both exciting and a little hectic. If you haven’t looked into these, don’t hesitatethey fill up fast. Here’s the schedule we are working on:


2/1          Families enrolled in VPSA Diploma Program may register for classes

2/5          Families enrolled in a VPSA online class (teacher-led or self-paced) may register

2/10        Families new to Veritas Press online classes may register


Calling All Practical Jokers: Student Writing Contest for April epistula

We are always delighted at the submissions our very talented student writers provide. Because the April epistula will arrive in your mailbox on April 1, we want these budding authors to let their creative juices flow for an article appropriate to be published on April Fool's Day.


Details: Authors may write on any topic that seems appropriate for the day. Ideas might include a spoof, reciting a past practical joke, etc.—let your imagination run wild. Submissions of 800–1,200 words; author's name, age and grade, address, telephone number, and e-mail address must be included on upper right hand corner of submissions. The author must be in high school or younger. Submissions must be submitted electronically to by 5:00 PM EST March 12, 2009. The winner will also receive a $100 gift certificate.


Veritas Press Teacher Training and In-A-Week Courses

Consider this a first heads-up for our teacher training and “In-A-Week” courses which are planned for this summer. Last year we offered these online only. The feedback was very good, and we plan the same for this year. Our teacher training conference is scheduled for July 28–30, 2010. We also plan again to offer intense training in what have come to be called “In-A-Week” classes. These classes are also geared to teachers, and we expect to have them for Latin and several Omnibus classes—all taught online by outstanding teachers with considerable expertise in the material. What better way to prepare yourself to teach these courses or just learn the material for your own edification? Please be encouraged to join us for these great opportunities.


Latin In-A-Week                July 19-23             Joanna Hensley

Latin In-A-Week                July 26-30             Joanna Hensley

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18th Annual ACCS Conference

The Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) national conference will be held June 17-19, 2010 in Durham, North Carolina. It is designed to provide the principles of a classical and Christian education and practical instruction in a broad range of subjects. Plenary sessions will feature Os Guinness, George Grant, Matt Whitling, and Douglas Wilson. Practical workshops will teach the implementation of classical Christian education. Marlin and Laurie Detweiler are scheduled to attend and speak, as well. Click here for more information or contact the ACCS office at (208) 882-6101.


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Interesting Facts about Veritas Press

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Outside the US and Canada, in which country did we do the most business during 2009?



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[1] The reader is invited to refer to my George Washington’s Sacred Fire (Bryn Mawr:  The Providence Forum Press, 2006), pp. 25ff for scholarly references.

[2] Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency (New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 2004).

[3] Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs Of Our Presidents From Washington to FDR (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995).

[4] Willard Sterne Randall, George Washington: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1997).

[5] Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington A Biography. 7 Vols (New York:, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948).

[6] James T. Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man (New York: Signet, 1984).

[7] Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington. Vol. 37, 5-13-1776.

[8] Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington. Vol. 30, 10-3-1789.

[9] George Washington, 1763, George Washington letter to Robert Stewart , April 27, 1763, John Rhodehamel, ed., George Washington Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1997), 108.

[10] Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, vol. V, pp.244-245