Church and State HUU service 7.17.’16 –
Robin McNallie: Intro of Ben Fordney
When Ben Fordney was alive, he on a number of occasions would introduce me as a guest speaker in the history classes he was teaching at Blue Ridge Community College and JMU’s Lifelong Learning Institute. So I now, with some real sadness, get briefly to do the same for him. Before his first retirement, Ben had a distinguished career in the foreign service, including a posting to South Vietnam in the ‘60s during the war there. No career could have suited him better, for he was, I can sincerely say, one of the most gracious, reasonable, and civilized men I have known in my long life. After that, Ben came to Harrisonburg and earned a master’s degree in American history from JMU. He was a leader in the local Democratic Party, serving at once time as chair of the city Dems. Besides himself running for political office, he helped campaign for other candidates. He unflaggingly promoted liberal causes, most especially tighter gun legislation. This morning’s presentation, “Church and State,” includes an abridged version of a talk that Ben gave to the local interfaith association some years ago which Chris and I attended. We thought then that it would be good to have him do a Sunday service here addressing the same issue, and Ben sent us a copy of his lecture. Somehow that service never quite materialized. Although Ben is not here to read his words, I believe the wit and reasonableness of the living man are still present.
Reading of Ben Fordney’s paper:
RELIGION OF THE FOUNDING FATHERS
Ben F. Fordney
Two questions come to mind: What were the religious beliefs of the Founders, and perhaps more importantly, what kind of nation did they want to create: a Christian America or a secular nation? One common thesis that some historians advance is that they were Deists who wanted a secular state. They embraced a radical Enlightenment philosophy that considered religion only in terms of religious freedom Others believe the Founders were evangelical biblical literalists Christians who created a Christian nation. Out of this comes the belief of American exceptionalism – the idea that America has a divine mission- a City Upon a Hill, as governor John Winthrop said at the time of the Puritans.
When you delve into this question and read the extensive historical treatment of the faiths of the Founders, you begin to understand that there are no simple answers to these questions. Most of the Founders were complicated men and it is impossible, in the case of most of them, to put them into definite categories.
Most historians but certainly not all, do not believe that most of the Founders accepted all the tenets of Christianity, in fact some scorned and mocked it. Few, however, were outright deists, in other words, believing in a clockmaker God who allowed the world to run by natural forces. [Read more…]