Thomas Jefferson, Christianity, and Things that are None of Our Business

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Thomas Jefferson accomplished a great many things in his lifetime. He drafted the Declaration of Independence, was an integral part in the shaping of the United States of America, and served as our third president, but was he actually a Christian?

With the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday rolling around again on April 13th last week, I thought it might be prudent to explore this topic. Time and time again, I’ve heard people say that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist…or at the very least, an agnostic. Meaning he either didn’t believe in God at all, or he believed in some sort of god, but didn’t think it possible for mankind to possess knowledge of the divine. I was taught this in high school and again at college, my professors adamant that though he may have leaned toward Christian principles, he didn’t exactly identify himself as a Christian.

This argument dates back to 1790 when his political opponents were the first to make the accusation. An accusation which, at the time, carried much more weight politically than it does today. Back then, Christianity was the status quo, to accuse one in a leadership position of being anything but was to call them unqualified and phony. Though today’s evangelical right wing certainly cares whether or not a politician is a Christian, this type of mudslinging wouldn’t have the same dramatic effect across the political spectrum as it did in the 18th century.

After reading though many of his letters and quotes, I can say with certainty that I believe Jefferson was indeed a true Christian. The quote below serves as evidence enough, but also led me to an entirely different thought process on the topic (which you’ll see if you read further). In response to Charles Thomson, Thomas Jefferson wrote in regard to a small book he carried, outlining Jesus’ teachings:

“…it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christian and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what it’s Author never said nor saw…”

 

Whoa. Just whoa.

Ok, let’s forget about the issue at hand and investigate that simple statement. Do we not still see this today? There are a great many pastors, leaders, and online personalities who twist the Word to suite their purpose. What about churches who issue sets of their own made-up rules and practices rather than simply following the gospel itself?

If one is simply following Jesus, is that not the epitome of being Christian?

Even still, after having stated his beliefs, it seems to yet remain a mystery to what tenants Jefferson truly subscribed. Why? Because it wasn’t enough for people back then to simply hear someone state they were a Christian. No, he had to prove it. Show it. Live it out loud so that his actions (and good works) would be good enough for all to believe.

Sound familiar?

See, in his time, regular church attendance evidenced faith. It wasn’t sufficient that he simply followed Jesus- I’m taking a bit of liberty here in assuming that he followed Jesus’s teachings because he believed Jesus was indeed the Messiah and history may prove me wrong, or it might not. Jefferson was a very private man when it came to faith, but that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. He was also an intelligent, deep thinker. It is my opinion that when he openly spoke against Christianity, it wasn’t the belief system, but rather the man-made religion formed by humans from the belief system. Think about all that he’d seen in his life as a result of man’s misinterpretation of God’s Word. It’s not hard to understand why he considered himself a disciple of Jesus and nothing else.

So, why all the outrage? Why would history show that many of his peers doubted him? Well, for starters, people didn’t like the fact that he was so private about his beliefs.

Again, sound familiar?

At the end of the day, I have to wonder, does any of it even matter?

Sure it does for him and his eternal soul, but for us present-day Americans, what can be learned by exploring this question? If we found definitive proof tomorrow that Jefferson was a stone-cold atheist, would that change the wonderful contributions he made to our developing nation? I don’t think so. He was one of the first proponents for freedom of religion, and for that we owe him and his fellow founders great gratitude.

I think if anything can really be learned from the question at hand, it isn’t whether Thomas Jefferson was actually a Bible-reading, Savior-believing Christian, but more so, why did Thomas Jefferson have to prove it?

What does that say about people back then?

And when you come up with that answer, ask yourself, have Christians changed much over the past 200 years?

A while back, when volunteering at my daughter’s school, I overheard a fellow volunteer discussing her brother with a friend. She said she was worried about his salvation.

The friend asked her, “Why, isn’t he a Christian?”

She responded with an all-knowing smirk, “Well, he says he is, but his language and attitude tell me differently.”

Oh, ok then. Apparently, it is completely our place to judge other people’s hearts. Kind of like Jefferson’s political opponents did to him, though it seems they did so for political gain while we do so to stroke our own identity of self-righteousness.

And yet, his reaction to such accusations only spoke more of his integrity. Jefferson remained steadfast in his beliefs and consistent in his public persona. He didn’t divulge every detail of his religious life, he didn’t jump to attention when called on the carpet, and he surely didn’t change who he was in an effort to impress or be accepted by others. Thomas Jefferson simply remained himself and history would thank him for it hundreds of years later.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for outspoken evangelism that screams ‘Jesus’ to the world every chance we get, when that’s what one is called to do. However, I think it’s worthwhile to remember that everyone isn’t the same. Some people are not comfortable with putting themselves out there like that, and that’s ok. Perhaps they are better suited spreading the gospel through their actions or close relationships. I can appreciate the notion of one being private in their faith. That doesn’t make them a better or worse Christian in my eyes, and it shouldn’t in yours either. Besides, last I knew there is only One qualified to judge.

Just some thoughts for today’s Spark of History. And if you couldn’t tell, Thomas Jefferson is my favorite president. Who’s your favorite American founder or historical hero? Tell me in the comments, I’m always up for an American history discussion!

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Abigail Adams: A Legacy of Resilience

As I was researching the Lenni Lenape and William Penn for work on my novel, The River Beautiful, a few months ago, I came across an article about Abigail Adams. It was strange at the time, I’m not really sure how I ended up reading about a woman who wouldn’t be born until a good 50 years later. Anyway, I found that once I started reading, I couldn’t stop! This seems to be a habit of mine, I’m sure you can understand. Learning about Abigail’s life inspired me so much, I just had to write about the many trials she’d faced, but more importantly, her strength of character and resolve to move forward.

This article was first published by History’s Women. I hope you enjoy reading this far too short spark of history about an amazing woman!

Abigail Adams: A Legacy of Resilience

As the Second First Lady of the young United States of America, inner strength was a necessity for Abigail Adams. Married to John Adams, the second president of the United States, Abigail had many responsibilities. Planning state dinners, entertaining, and networking with fellow political wives were duties imperative to her position. However, serving as a devoted wife and mother to her 5 surviving children proved to be the most influential contribution she would make.

Abigail Adams

Far ahead of her time, Abigail not only served as First Lady, but was considered by many to be her husband’s most trusted advisor. From politics to spiritual matters, John sought Abigail’s advice diligently. So much so, that his political opponents even went as far to refer to Abigail as ‘Mrs. President’. In a time when women were expected to sit quietly on the sidelines and had not yet gained the right to vote, Abigail was fortunate to have a husband who took her seriously. It undoubtedly took a great deal of courage to be so outspoken regarding public policy.

Abigail adored her husband and he, her. A snippet from a letter she wrote to him in 1774 reads like a love poem of the likes we have only known through the works of Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte’.

“I dare not express to you, at three hundred miles distance, how ardently I long for your return.”

Their marriage did not exist without difficulty. Aside from the turmoil of the time as well as the criticism they faced regarding John’s openness to Abigail’s ideas, the two lost a child when their daughter, Elizabeth, was stillborn. Though not an uncommon occurrence in the late 18th century, the loss must have carried its weight of devastation and grief. Still, they survived and grew closer throughout their years together.

Growing up, Abigail was often ill as a child, a weakness that extended well into adulthood. However, that didn’t stop her from learning to read, write, and cipher at the teaching of her mother. As a young woman, Abigail was a self-starter and spent a great deal of time reading with friends to further her own education. Abigail’s life experiences allowed her to have the insight to advocate for all women. She penned the following reminder to her husband.

“I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.” (Talk about words of wisdom far ahead of her time!)

Abigail believed women should take an active role in decision-making within the home. An educated woman could then use her knowledge to effectively manage her household.

A devoted mother, Abigail is now also known as the first woman to have served as First Lady who was also the mother of a president. Her son, John Quincy Adams, grew up to be the sixth president of the United States. The moral values she held shone through in her parenting. In 1780, she wrote to her son.

“Let this important truth be engraven upon your heart…Justice, humanity, and benevolence are the duties you owe to society in general.”

It isn’t surprising that his policies supported education and the establishment of a national university since his mother hadn’t had access to a formal education herself. Though she died before her son assumed the role of president, there is no doubt that Abigail’s sound advice must have influenced his decisions.

More than two hundred years later, Abigail’s insight, devotion, and intelligence have left a lasting effect on women today. We can all learn from her example of determination, diligence, and advocacy for the equality of women in the United States. Throughout physical ailments, a lack of formal education, the loss of a child, and the disadvantage of being a woman in early America, Abigail’s resiliency left a legacy of a strength, love, integrity, and the drive to achieve regardless of circumstance. Abigail was blessed with a fulfilling life and passed away at the age of 73 from Typhoid fever.

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That’s it for this small Spark of History!

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