With words like God, Lord, and Creator found in the Declaration of Independence, it is easy to assume that the founders of the United States were Christians. John Adams, the nation’s second President, said, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity” (The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, ed., Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856, Vol. III, p. 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796). Benjamin Franklin, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote to Yale president Ezra Stiles, “I think the system of morals and [Jesus’] religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see” (Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, ed., New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, p. 185). Such statements imply that Christianity was influential in the founders’ lives.
The reality is that the Founding Fathers were a diverse group of individuals. There is varied evidence as to the religious affiliation of several of the founders. George Washington is often cited as an Episcopalian. His public addresses contain many statements that support the claim that Washington was, in fact, a committed Christian. There is also evidence that Washington was only nominal in his faith. Thomas Jefferson made statements implying he was a Christian, but his brand of Christianity was dubious, at best. Jefferson rejected the supernatural accounts of the Bible, the Trinity, and the incarnation of Christ. James Madison was Anglican, but he is also argued to be a deist. Thomas Paine never served in any elected capacity, but he had great influence in the early years of the country. Paine was not a Christian; in his work The Age of Reason, he attacked the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.
There is little doubt that the principles upon which the United States was founded are indeed found in the Bible. Equality, liberty, and justice are all biblical principles. The faith of the founders, on the other hand, will continue to be debated. Did the founders respect God and the Christian religion? Absolutely. Were they influenced by the Bible? Surely. Were they all born-again believers in Jesus Christ? No.
Even in reading what the founders themselves stated and wrote for the public, none of us will ever truly know their hearts. The apostle Paul wrote, “The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19). While it is interesting to research the religious convictions of the founders, only God truly knows the ones who put faith in Jesus. More important than the heart condition of the Founding Fathers, is the spiritual condition of those presently in public office. It is our duty to pray for rulers and those in positions of authority (1 Timothy 2:2).