Our next one will be in September. We like to visit all the sites and memorials that make our nation’s capital one of the greatest places on earth to experience. After touring Washington on Thursday and Friday, we like to take our motorcoach down through historic Alexandria, Va., on Saturday morning, to visit Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington.
Mount Vernon rests on the banks of the beautiful Potomac River. The contrast between the noise, hustle and bustle of modern day Washington, D.C., and the quiet serenity of Mount Vernon is striking.
George Washington was, arguably, the most significant person to live on this planet the last 1,000 years. Without his leadership, I doubt very seriously the United States of America would be here today. And if you look at what the U.S. has accomplished for itself and for the world since its inception, without her, the world could very well be living without electricity, without cars and without planes, just to name three things off the top of my head. And certainly, it would be without much freedom, human rights or security thanks, in large part, to the military superiority that comes with being the world’s wealthiest country.
Last week I watched a special on Educational Television about the life and times of George Washington. A couple of days later I went back and re-read Washington’s Farewell Address, delivered on Sept. 17, 1796, in Philadelphia. He had already served two terms as president and did not wish to serve a third, thus his farewell. I commend it to every American. Here are some quotes from this famous speech:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it be simply asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Wow! George Washington was not speaking of Islam. He wasn’t speaking of Buddhism. George Washington was – in no uncertain terms – emphasizing the importance of American citizens honoring, respecting and adhering to the principles of the Christian faith. The Ten Commandments. The Sermon on the Mount. President Washington was by today’s definition – as were most of our Founding Fathers if you read their writings – crazies of the religious right. He wasn’t much into “ceremonial deism.” After all, this was his farewell speech. The things that mattered most. What he wanted to be remembered for. And here he is saying that if the American people didn’t strive to obey the laws of God first, the republic would not stand.
What if President Bush gave the same speech today? Can you imagine the beating he would take in the press? CNN would report it like this: “President Bush today set off a political firestorm by mixing politics and religion in a speech given in Philadelphia. Democratic critics along with the American Civil Liberties Union blamed the president for using his bully pulpit to ram religion down people’s throats’ and make non-Christians feel like third class citizens. Even GOP strategists backed away from Mr. Bush’s comments as too divisive’ and judgmental.’ Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton denounced the president, saying his words, were scary and sounded a lot like Taliban rhetoric.’”
I could tell you story after story after story of how and why our Founding Fathers promoted Christianity to the nation’s citizenry. They were sincere in their dependence on Almighty God. It wasn’t a game with these guys. It wasn’t rhetoric. And it wasn’t pandering to the public for votes. It was far from ceremonial, it was powerfully meaningful.