So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State
Culture wars are nothing new, as Church demonstrates ably in this study of the tenure of America’s first five presidents. Our nation’s relationship between church and state travels from Washington’s “warm” deism through John Adams’s Puritan roots, to Jefferson’s role as “priest of the Enlightenment.” The religious wars peak during Madison’s term and the War of 1812, and moral challenges of American Indian removal (when “faith-based initiative” missionaries received government assistance in their quest to Christianize American Indians) and slavery beset the presidency of James Monroe.
As the new country got to know itself, the Bible and the Declaration of Independence were both viewed as sacred documents and so the question became: could one nation under God also offer liberty and justice for all? Even the celebrations of the Fourth of July were viewed by some pastors as anti-Christian. Often presidents took contradictory stances to their own convictions. The country’s first fifty years as seen in So Help Me God form a rich mix of many battles which will seem very familiar to today’s Americans.
Church provides both able scholarship and readable analysis of his fascinating subject. He demonstrates that in America, when not entangling themselves in each other’s business, both Church and State have flourished.