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The Presidents & Their Faith: From George Washington to Barack Obama Paperback – March 21, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Elevate Faith; First edition (March 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1937498980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1937498986
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,312,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Dr. Darrin Grinder is Chair of the English Department at Northwest Nazarene University and Associate Professor of American Literature. He has a Doctorate of Arts in English from Idaho State University. He and his wife attend Cathedral of the Rockies United Methodist Church in Boise, Idaho.

Dr. Steve Shaw is Professor of Political Science and Director of the University Honors Program at Northwest Nazarene University. He holds a PhD degree in Political Science from the University of Oklahoma. He has taught at NNU since 1979, and he and his wife attend Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian, Idaho.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

At the center of the political system of the United States is the office that the United States Constitution refers to simply as “President of the United States of America.” During the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, delegates such as George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, and others struggled for over six weeks to construct this office that today is seen alternately as the nation’s Chaplain-in-Chief or the nation’s fire hydrant. As one leading contemporary scholar of the American presidency contends, “Familiar as it is, the American presidency has never been easy to understand. The institution has a protean character that defies fixed descriptions or settled explanations. Its history is riddled with eminence and embarrassment, proficiency and paralysis.” We have had forty-four presidencies and forty-three presidents. The oddity, of course, is caused by Grover Cleveland, the only president to be elected to two non-consecutive terms in U.S. history. All have been white, save for President Barack Obama, males, and all have been Protestant (more or less), save for President John Kennedy, our country’s first and to this point only Catholic president. In the words of Howard Fineman of Newsweek, “Every president invokes God and asks His blessing. Every president promises, though not always in so many words, to lead according to moral principles rooted in Biblical tradition.” All of our presidents have spoken of (and most claimed to have spoken to) a higher power of some sort, from Supreme Being or Divine Legislator to a more personal Lord or Savior. Almost all quoted from or claimed to have read the Bible (either regularly or when Congress perhaps was in session). Some presidents were religiously devout; others, apparently not. Some presidents attended church services with utmost consistency; others, seldom, if at all. Some presidents were convincingly orthodox in their religious thought and practice; others were held either in high suspicion or low esteem because of questions or misperceptions or downright unfounded conclusions about their faith. Almost all of our presidents have viewed the United States as having some kind of special (they may or may not use covenantal language) relationship with God and yet few were deep or disciplined students of religion and theology, or perhaps even our own national history. In short, most presidents reflect what Alexis de Tocqueville concluded about Americans in the early nineteenth century during his brief but highly consequential trek across the young Republic: we embrace religion and try to keep theology at arm’s length. In his masterful account of the presidential election of 1960, in which the Catholicism of Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts figured prominently, Theodore White concluded, “The Presidency hovers over the popular American imagination almost as a sacerdotal office, a priestly role for which normal political standards are invalid.” Similarly, Michael Novak argues, “Every four years Americans elect a king—but not only a king, also a high priest and prophet.” Novak adds that the election “of a president is an almost religious task; it intimately affects the life of the spirit, our identity.” The Constitution prohibits, as we all know, any religious test for holding political office in the United States; however, it clearly is (or at the least appears to be) the case that no serious candidate for the White House can even run the risk of violating our religious/political norm that one be (or to the cynic, at least appear to be) religious. And moreover, the candidate should be not just religious, but acceptably religious, for it does appear to be the case that we do have a religious litmus test concerning the American presidency. The last Unitarian president was William Howard Taft, who faced allegations of heresy during the 1908 campaign. Reverend Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University, warned Americans, “If Jefferson is elected, the Bible will be burned, the French ‘Marseillaise’ will be sung in Christian churches, and we may see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution; soberly dishonored; speciously polluted.” Some in the American electorate still question the religious bona fides of President Obama, in spite of his numerous and public statements about his Christian beliefs and religious journey. And the presidential election of 2012 already has engendered at least a conversation about the prospects of the country having as president a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history and student of the American presidency, cautions against seeing the election of any candidate (especially our own) as a harbinger of the Second Coming. “The introduction of religious language and faith claims into presidential politics,” Balmer argues, “raises an important question: So what? Does a candidate’s faith or even his moral character make any substantive difference in how he governs?” Does ethical earnestness translate into an effective presidency? Do spiritual disciplines make one a great president? According to Balmer, “If we persist in vetting the faith of our presidential candidates, we must find a way to reinvest both religion and the political process with a profundity befitting the importance of both.” That is the challenge facing us as authors of this brief and so we hope (and pray?) informative book on presidents and their religious faiths. And we think it is the challenge facing you, the reader, especially if you vote, or are thinking about voting in the race for the White House. On the eve of another presidential election, we find ourselves once again confronting questions about our national identity and national purpose. We hope this book persuades you to think carefully about the connection between faith and presidential leadership. (Dr. Darrin Grinder and Dr. Steve Shaw)

Customer Reviews

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Chase on February 23, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is very timely for 2012, when we are confronted almost daily with discussion of the religions of presidential candidates. As one wholely unfamiliar with the faiths of most presidents, I found this to be a concise and clear introduction to all 44 US presidents. The summaries were short and stayed on point, with only salient external details to give context to a president's frequency of church attendance, for example. After reading it quickly (I really couldn't put it down!) I feel like I have a baseline picture of faith in US presidency.... virtually all with religious upbringing/training, varying degrees of Christian orthodoxy or church attendance, and, until recent times, most were adamant about separating the office of the president from their own religious practices or convictions. I would have been willing to read more than the average of about 5pg/presidentIt really put today's issues in a broader light for those of us who are not intending to become presidential scholars but want real, scholarly cliff notes on which to draw current conclusions.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. K on June 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
Most early presidents held firmly to a view that God blessed and guided and assigned a destiny to this country but in practice leaders held to the separation of church and state, settling national issues on their own terms rather than on their faith. President Eisenhower took symbolic actions that weakened the separation of church and state in the face of the threat of communist atheism (171) while President Carter took certain political risks like espousal of human rights because of his faith (199). Chester Arthur was hostile to his parents' faith and became president because of political maneuvering while George W. Bush said he felt like God wanted him to be president because the country would need him. Some presidents saw destiny as God's will while others found mystery and fatalism. How are we to interpret President McKinley's famous remarks to a group of ministers that while in prayer it came to him that we should take over the Philippines to uplift, civilize and Christianize them? Even if taken at face value, is that how history is made, or is it more like Andrew Jackson who, the authors tell us, lost little sleep over the contradiction between his professed beliefs and his actions toward Native Americans?

Is there a single or simple message in this history? Over against frenzied writers like David Barton, these are serious writers who present the diversity and complexity that reside in these forty-four presidents. There is continuity in the public profession of the role of God in our history, but in the practice of bringing personal faith to bear on public issues, the record is not simple. The present writers, Grinder and Shaw, give us what we need, a short and easy-to-read book with a balanced perspective of the role of faith in the lives of these presidents and some insights on the interaction of faith and policy. Read it, put yourself in the position of these presidents and then ask--what would I have done differently?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JMack VINE VOICE on August 25, 2013
Format: Paperback
In reading "The Presidents & their Faith", the reader will observe to basic trends. First, the need to the president to be "showy" with his faith has become greater with time. The call in the bible to pray in private cannot be observed by the president. Second, the separation of church and state has eroded as the president's faith has become more public. The very reason early presidents chose not to be showy was to allow the game of politics to corrupt the church. The concise volume that is this book is informative. The authors provide the evidence and largely allow the reader to judge the strength of the president's faith. The information shies away from framing history, particularly along political lines.

While many would like us to believe the first presidents were devoted to their faith, many readers will be shocked to learn the beliefs and often ambivalence of the early presidents. It would further seem that church attendance has been quite optional for the presidents. The tide for a devotion to Christianity really seems to blossom around the presidency of Eisenhower. The irony of this development is the little discussed fact the Eisenhower was once a Jehovah's Witness which would have alarmed many Americans at the time.

A book of just over 200 pages is not designed to be definitive so much as an overview. With this in mind, the authors are fairly informative and largely unbiased. I have a theory about their political leanings, but it is not evident in their writing. Teachers of American history would be well served to proselytize information from this book in their classes.
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