Friday, April 3, 2015

Gary Scott Smith's "Religion in the Oval Office"

Gary Scott Smith is Chair of the History Department at Grove City College. He is the author of numerous books on history and religion including Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush, and Heaven in the American Imagination.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents, and reported the following:
My page 99 discusses John Quincy Adams’s efforts to understand the nature of the Trinity. Adams, like his father John, was one of the nation’s most erudite and pensive presidents. John Quincy spoke several languages, read widely, wrote poetry, and was very knowledgeable about the sciences. Adams’s faith was central to his convictions, character, and conduct and strongly influenced his political ideals and practices. He attended church faithfully for much of his life and while president worshipped twice every Sunday, alternating among Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Unitarian services.

Unlike his father who concluded that Jesus was not divine, John Quincy Adams could never make up his mind about Christ’s deity. The nature of Jesus, Adams wrote, was a “speculative question” upon which he refused to take sides. Only a few other presidents apparently grappled with this issue, most notably Thomas Jefferson (especially in his famous “Jefferson Bible” that eliminated almost all New Testament references to Christ’s divinity and miracles) and William Howard Taft (who was a life-long Unitarian). However, several other presidents, including George Washington, James Madison, and Richard Nixon, said little publicly or even privately about Jesus.

Nevertheless, numerous presidents have exhibited a deep and meaningful faith that has shaped their worldviews and characters and have testified that their religious convictions influenced their political philosophy, analysis of issues, decision-making, and performance in office. His religious commitments strongly affected John Quincy Adams’s efforts to fund roads, canals, and educational institutions and promote diplomacy. Their Christian faith also influenced William McKinley’s decisions to declare war against Spain and take control of the Philippines; Herbert Hoover’s quests to reform prisons and defend civil liberties; Harry Truman’s approach to the Cold War and decision to recognize Israel; Bill Clinton’s promotion of religious liberty; Barack Obama’s policies on poverty and gay civil rights; and the crusades of several presidents to advance world peace.
Learn more about Religion in the Oval Office at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Heaven in the American Imagination.

--Marshal Zeringue