If we are truly honest with ourselves, it is difficult not to recognize that our society is in moral decline.
Television shows have become increasingly crude and deal with topics that sometimes make you cringe if you are in the presence of mixed company or watching with your children. I can cite specific examples as I was forced to watch mid-afternoon shows when I was reassigned to a satellite location for 9 months. The TV was on, loudly, all during lunch. The guests on Steve Harvey spoke openly at times about matters that should be at best private and even then, questionable as a topic.
Consequently, it is almost in desperation it seems that moral Christian people grasp at straws to convince themselves and others that our Constitutional framers (or Founders as is often commonly and incorrectly used) were Christians or that our Constitution was founded on Christian principles.
Clearly they were not. Clearly, as we shall see, neither was the Constitution itself.
One commonly cited event that is often referred to is the Franklin prayer speech. Did it happen? According to Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, the answer is that “Yes, it did.” on June 28, 1787.
According to the notes, when the delegates were at an impasse in the proceedings, Franklin rose to make a motion that the proceedings begin with a prayer. After acknowledging the lack of progress, Franklin then offered:
I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move–that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service—
Sounds pretty Christian doesn’t it? (Coming from Franklin however based on his background as a lifetime Mason and profession to Deism it is about as genuine as Obama offering a prayer before his State of the Union Address. See the fifth post in this series for more details on Franklin’s background.)
So What Happened Next?
According to the notes:
So then, what happened? Well, in actuality………nothing!
A few delegates supported the motion. Hamilton said that it might bring about unfavorable or censorious comments leading to public questions. Roger Sherman of Connecticut (a regular attendee who later helped draft the New Jersey plan which broke the deadlock that Franklin was suggesting prayer for with The Great Compromise) also suggested it would bring on criticism and public attention that would “likely to good as ill.”
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina (another active member who served on 5 committees) suggested “The Convention had no funds.”
Edmund Randolph of Virginia (who introduced the Virginia Plan and later became Attorney General and later Secretary of State under Washington) suggested that a sermon be preached at the request of the Convention at the July 4th celebration and thereafter prayers be used every morning thereafter.
The next entry in the notes? “After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing the matter by adjourng. The adjournment was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.”
A further note clearly states:
That is from Madison’s notes and words, not mine!
The issue was never brought up again. Nor was a sermon preached on the 4th of July celebration for that matter. So much for the Christian character of the delegates.
So let’s please dispense with this myth that is over played as a demonstration of the Christian impulses of our framers. When it arose there was, for all intents and purposes, no support for the motion.
As the notes clearly state: The Convention…thought Prayers unnecessary.
Well….It Was Adopted Later Wasn’t It?
While it is true that Congress later adopted prayer to open every session. This custom did not get adopted without detractors. One such detractor was the so-called “Father of the Constitution”, James Madison.
Madison’s Memoranda was discovered in 1946 among the papers of William Cabell Rives, one of Madison’s biographers. Scholars date these observations between 1817 and 1832. They offer insight into Madison’s genuine opinions on key topics and persons.
This is what Madison had to say about the appointment of Chaplin’s to Congress:
It is quite obvious that Madison was opposed to the practice of Chaplin’s in Congress as well as prayer to open sessions. While he protested on the grounds of spending public money, he also noted that it shut the door to the “other sects” like those of the Quakers and Catholics, arguing that they should be included as well. Plurality and separation of church and state were obvious motives. This certainly reflects no act of a devoted Christian. Additionally, note his reference at the end of this commentary: “Were the establishment to be tried by its fruits, are not the daily devotions conducted by these legal Ecclesiastics, already degenerating into a scanty attendance, and a tiresome formality!”
Even in those times Madison notes, the practice was already degenerating into a mere formality with scant attendance. Madison goes on further about the inclusion of religious (Christian actually) practices in the government. He was obviously defending his model of the secular state. Certainly, not the writings of a dedicated Christian.
And keep in mind that these are the words of the man attributed as “The Father of the Constitution”. If this man is the Father, what does this say about the children of the Constitution? That is, the other delegates and their intentions. After all, the apple does not fall far from the tree as the saying goes does it not?
Unless you are solidly fixated in your point of view with no other possibilities permitted, one has to recognize that the intent of this Constitution was certainly not grounded in the Christian faith.
Additionally, the practice eventually was watered down to include Rabbi’s (Rabbi Morris Raphall in 1860) In 1991, it invited a Muslim imam. In 2000, it invited a Hindu priest. In 2003, it invited an openly gay clergy person. I wonder if this is what the initiator’s of this custom expected when it was introduced?
I would seriously question that assumption.
In the next post, we’ll move into the Constitution itself for more insight and evidence of the nature and intent of this document which will further point to why it has failed to keep its intended purposes.
Start at the beginning of this series.