By Robert Morgan
The Bible has played a starring role in American history from our nation’s beginnings, transcending party affiliation, race, and class. When George Washington was sworn into office, he swore upon and even kissed the Bible. Even today, our currency still reads, “In God We Trust.” To find its future, the U.S. must recall its past and reform its present.
Not every Founding Father was a Christian, a Bible-believer, or a paragon of virtue. Not every president has honored the Bible. Not every leader has appreciated its influence. Some of the Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine — were disciples of Enlightenment rationalism. But even they were intimately acquainted with the contents of the Bible. They vigorously studied Scripture and respected its ethical teachings.
I am not commending all our nation’s leaders, but I am commending the book they held in their hands. Washington’s Inaugural Bible has been carefully preserved as one of the nation’s prized possessions. Other presidents have borrowed it from time to time, placing their hands on it as they repeated the oath of office: Warren Harding, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush. George W. Bush wanted to use Washington’s Bible, but his inauguration was threatened by rain, and no one wanted to risk damaging its hallowed pages.
John Adams wrote, “The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that was ever conceived on earth. . . . I believe [it] to be the only system that ever did or ever will preserve a republic in the world.”
“In regard to this Great Book,” wrote Abraham Lincoln in a letter dated September 7, 1864, “I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book.”
“Hold fast to the Bible,” wrote Ulysses S. Grant on June 6, 1872, “as the sheet- anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives.”
Calvin Coolidge said, “The foundation of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.”
Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, addressing the Long Island Bible Society just weeks before being thrust into the presidency by the assassination of William McKinley, said, “A very large number of people tend to forget that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally — I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally — impossible for us to figure to ourselves what that life would be if these teachings were removed.”
President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic.”
The Bible is the cornerstone of American history, which is why throughout the centuries this land has withstood the fury of the winds, tides, and storms.
How strange that a nation would reject its finest founding document and exhibit a tolerance for everyone except those who still affirm the Book that resides at the heart of our history. If you look around, you’ll see a multiplying army of young adults assertively shining their lights. They — we — cannot be intimidated by secularists, daunted by pundits, corrupted by immorality, or silenced by mockers.
Recently I attended a question-and-answer event with former president George W. Bush. The interviewer asked him about his regular daily routine now that he was out of the White House. What does a former president do all day?
I jotted down Bush’s reply on a scrap of paper. He said, “There is no regular routine. Every day is different. Today I’m here in Jackson, and tonight I’m flying back to Houston and getting Laura, and we’ll be in New York tomorrow. No two days are alike.”
Then he paused and said, “Well, there is one part of my routine that doesn’t change. Every morning I spend time reading my Bible. I started when I was forty years old, and I read the Bible every morning during my presidency, and I do the same now. In fact, I find I need it now more than ever.”
So does our nation.
Robert J. Morgan is a writer and speaker who serves as the teaching pastor at The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville. His new book, 100 Bible Verses that Made America, is a biblical tour through U.S. history. He and his wife, Katrina, have three daughters and 16 grandchildren.