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Faiths of the Presidents

    With the arrival of this new president, many people are (and have been) wondering about the faith of Barack Obama.  He belonged to Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, until questions arose about comments made by the minister during sermons.  Last summer, he disassociated himself and his family from their church membership. 

    But what about the faiths of the other American presidents?  As with any group of people, some held strongly to Christian beliefs, some attended church (apparently) reluctantly, while others did not hold to the Christian faith or perhaps were non-religious.  The denominational leanings of the president are as follows:  Episcopalian, 12; Presbyterian, 7; Methodist, 4; Baptist, 4; Unitarian (denies the Trinity view of God, Jesus was more of a prophet than part of God), 3; Disciples of Christ, 2; Dutch Reformed, 2; Quaker, 2; Congregationalist, 2; Catholic, 1; No clear church affiliation, 3.

    This list could be broken down further in a chronological sense.  From this list above, let’s look more closely at the Episcopalian and Baptist presidents.  The Episcopalians (and Presbyterians) were strongest in the earlier times of the nation, while the Baptists (and Methodists) gained considerable strength during the early and mid-1800s, greatly outnumbering Episcopalians and Presbyterians by 1900.  This is reflected in the presidential list.  Out of the twelve Episcopalian presidents, four of them were among the first five presidents, and eight (including the first four) were presidents before Lincoln.  On the other hand, the first Baptist president was William Harding, who became president in 1921. 

    One interesting note:   Under Eisenhower’s presidency, the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (1954), “In God We Trust” was made the motto of the country (1956), and that phrase was placed on currency (1957).

    The list provided below is not intended to be a statement of the personal faith of the presidents; instead it only reveals the membership or regular attendance of presidents.

    George Washington, Episcopalian; John Adams, Congregationalist with Unitarian leanings; Thomas Jefferson, Episcopalian with Unitarian leanings; James Madison, Episcopalian; James Monroe, Episcopalian; John Quincy Adams, Unitarian (Founding member of the First Unitarian Church of Washington, DC, but attended Presbyterian and Episcopal services); Andrew Jackson, Presbyterian; Martin Van Buren, Dutch Reformed; William Harrison, Episcopalian; John Tyler, Episcopalian; James Polk, Methodist; Zachary Taylor, Episcopalian; Millard Fillmore, Unitarian; Franklin Pierce, Episcopalian; James Buchanan, Presbyterian; Abraham Lincoln, occasionally attended Presbyterian churches; Andrew Johnson, occasionally attended Methodist and Catholic churches; Ulysses Grant, Methodist; Rutherford Hayes, no religious affiliation but his wife was a Methodist; James Garfield, Disciples of Christ; Chester Arthur, Episcopalian; Grover Cleveland, Presbyterian; Benjamin Harrison, Presbyterian;(Grover Cleveland was President for a second time); William McKinley, Methodist; Theodore Roosevelt, Dutch Reformed; William Taft, Unitarian; Woodrow Wilson, Presbyterian; Warren Harding, Baptist; Calvin Coolidge, Congregationalist; Herbert Hoover, Quaker; Franklin Roosevelt, Episcopalian; Harry Truman, Baptist; Dwight Eisenhower, joined Presbyterian church after first inauguration; John Kennedy, Catholic; Lyndon Johnson, Disciples of Christ; Richard Nixon, Quaker; Gerald Ford, Episcopalian; Jimmy Carter, Baptist; Ronald Reagan, Presbyterian; George H.W. Bush, Episcopalian; Bill Clinton, Baptist; and George W. Bush, Methodist.  Barack Obama, until recently, United Church of Christ.

©2009 Mark Nickens

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