During this presidential campaign season, we have witnessed a firestorm coming from the beliefs and words of a candidate’s pastor. But the pulpit’s influence on politics is nothing new. In fact, it’s as old as the nation itself, and a blessing at that.
Not only do we owe our independence to George Washington’s military might, Thomas Jefferson’s prolific pen and Benjamin Franklin’s deft diplomacy, but our liberty is also a gift from patriots with a purpose. The American Revolution would not have been possible without voices from the pulpit.
Consider Rev. George Duffield. When John Adams contemplated the momentous idea of independence, he found fresh inspiration from a sermon.
“I have this morning heard Mr. Duffield upon the signs of the times. He run a parallel between the case of Israel and that of America, and between the conduct of Pharaoh and that of [King] George,” Adams wrote to wife Abigail on May 17, 1776.
To Adams, Duffield was a preacher “whose principles, prayers and sermons more nearly resemble those of our New England clergy than any that I have heard.”
Duffield’s comparison between Pharaoh and King George tasted sweeter than manna to Adams. The reason? It made sense of the madness. After all, the Israelites had sought political, not spiritual, freedom from Egypt. The king’s decision to deny jury trials and abolish constitutions was Pharaoh-like. What most struck Adams was Duffield’s heavenly call, something he had long been considering.
“He concluded that the course of events, indicated strongly the design of Providence that we should be separated from Great Britain,” Adams wrote.
Duffield probably knew Adams and other Continental Congress delegates were searching for their purpose amidst the chaos, looking for their own burning bushes ignited by musket fire.
“Is it not a saying of Moses, who am I, that I should go in and out before this great people?” Adams wrote. “When I consider the great events which are passed, and those greater which are rapidly advancing. . . I feel an awe upon my mind, which is not easily described.”
Whatever role he would play in this separation operation—whether speaking with Aaron’s eloquence or mustering Moses’ mettle—Adams knew one thing was certain: independence was indispensable to a prosperous future.
“[Great Britain] has at last driven America, to the last step, a complete separation from her, a total absolute independence,” he concluded.
Adams was one of the loudest voices supporting the Declaration of Independence, which the Continental Congress proclaimed on July 4, 1776. Duffield’s sermon wasn’t the genesis for Adams’s advocacy, but the message emboldened him to speak out. Duffield did what ministers often do: guide people to God’s purpose for their lives.
The American Revolution would not have been possible without the pulpit. As early as 1750, Jonathan Mayhew of Boston’s West Church preached a groundbreaking sermon against tyranny. Pastor and President of Princeton John Witherspoon, initially reluctant to talk publicly about the crisis, became so frustrated by 1776 that he not only talked about it, but he also signed the declaration. Peter Muhlenberg surprised his Virginia congregation one day by ending his sermon with a disrobing, removing his clerical garb to reveal a uniform.
The declaration details more than 25 bullet points documenting King George’s tyranny. Patriots behind the pulpit concluded the king had abdicated his God-given responsibility to protect their God-given rights. Yes, they believed it was their duty to respect their government, but they had a greater responsibility to defend freedom, the opposite of tyranny. As their sermons reveal, many stood fast on Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ came, stand firm then for freedom.”
After they traded royalty for representation, these pastors predicted the United States would prosper, one that would flourish with new inventions, enhance intellect through education, welcome refugees, and spread the gospel through their newfound freedom to worship. The nation we live in today is proof of their political prophesies.
Forty years after that sermon, John Adams observed that the American Revolution was more than just a war.
“The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution,” he wrote.
A great way for Christians to celebrate the nation’s birthday is to remember that independence is a blessing. Our liberty is a gift from thousands, including patriots with a purpose who lived loudly for liberty for you and me.
Jane Hampton Cook, www.janecook.com, is the author of Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War, a 365-day digest with personal writings from about 20 key players in the Revolutionary War. She is a former webmaster to President George W. Bush. Ms. Cook resides in Vienna, Va.