The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



February 13, 2009

No church for Lincoln

Yesterday was Abraham Lincoln's 200the birthday, which got some press here in Illinois—mainly in the newspaper book section, as several historians makred the occasion with new tomes.

I read one of these Sunday, a review of Adam Gopnik's Angels and Ages, tracing the parallel lives of Lincoln and Charles Darwin who both were born Feb. 12, 1809. I was stopped in my perusal by this paragraph, a quote from Lincoln when he was attacked—in 1846 while running for Congress—for being a heathen:

"That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures: and I have never spoke with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular."

That was it. End of public discussion. Now compare this with the seemingly endless inquiries into the faith life and congregational affiliations of candidates for public office in the 2008 election. Makes me ask, Could Lincoln have been elected President in 2008?

It's all just a bit ironic to me, remembering my public grade-school days here in Illinois in the 1950s. We gave a nod to George Washington as "Father of Our Country," but it was Lincoln we loved. We carefully cut his craggy silhouette out of black construction paper and memorized the Gettysburg Address. We lived in the "Land of Lincoln" and were proud of it. He was our patriot. Our saint. But we never questioned his faith.





Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith

Posted at 9:54 am (U.S. Eastern) 2/17/2009

Some years back I read a biography of Lincoln called 'With Malice Toward None'.  The name of the authopr escapes me now.  But he did discuss Lincoln's religius views, and they seem to have changed.  His mother was a 'Primitive Baptist' and her belief in fate was something that stayed with Lincoln all his life.  But beyond this, as I understand it, Lincoln was not a "Doctrinaire Christian".  When he was asked why he never joined a church, he said he could never subscribe to their long and complicated creedal statements, and that when he found a church that had carved on it's altar the two greatest commandments or love of God and love of neighbor, he "would join that church with all my heart".

 A friend of his from his law days, William herndon, said after Lincoln's death that he had been an infidel {maybe he did not use that word}, but another friend visiting the White House said he found Lincoln reading the Bible.  When this man said he had not recovered from his skepticism, Lincoln is said to have replied, "you are wrong...take as much of this book on reason as you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a much happier man".




Posted at 4:54 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/18/2009

Lincoln was a great man and a sad man.  After his son died while he was in office we dedicated every Thursday to morning his son.  Several months of this went by and people in the White House began to worry.  Lincoln did not come out of this morning state until a preacher told him that he believed that Lincoln's son was not dead but alive with Christ in heaven.  Lincoln my have not been a member of a church but I believe he had a lot of faith in the Christian teachings.

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February issue


Embracing diversity