How faith shaped the American Revolution

Georgene Rice interviews award-winning historian, Rod Gragg, the author of “By the Hand of Providence, How Faith Shaped the American Revolution.” In his book he sheds light on how the Judeo-Christian world motivated America’s founding fathers.

Georgene: This is a fascinating retelling of events that have long been lost in public education, about how our nation’s founding was so influenced, driven, and guided by the hand of the faith of those who were engaged in this strategic period. Why tell this story now?

Rod: The story deserves to be told and remembered at any time and for all time because it is essential to our nation.  It is our origin and made us who we became.

Georgene: There is an ongoing debate in our country as to whether faith played much of a role, saying that the founding fathers may have had nominal faith, if any faith at all. The history you present here reminds us of the very strategic role that providence played in forming our Republic.

Rod: Everyone has an opinion, but historical evidence clearly, undeniably, and overwhelmingly indicates that the culture, laws, and government of our nation were founded on a Biblical faith. It is no accident that the Declaration of Independence begins with the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The world view of the day was so fundamentally Biblical, that to put your life on the line had to have Biblical justification. You see that expressed in the colonial era and the American Revolution.

The title of the book comes from a quote from Washington, who believed that America’s nationhood and victory in the Revolution was the result of “the hand of providence or the sovereign grace of God. ”  In the American Revolution you saw three forces at work the American people, the Continental Congress, and Washington.  All of them were molded and motivated by a Biblical world view.

Georgene: You make the point the that American Revolution was sparked, not only by the high taxation, but also the attempt to suppress the inalienable rights that these individuals believed that they were entitled to.

Rod: It was not just that they considered the taxes high, it was the first time that the British government put a direct tax upon the American people, and the people had no voice in the British parliament.

Americans were very reluctant revolutionaries. The American colonies were founded by English people in the early 1600’s in the wake of the great revival of Christianity called The English Reclamation. It swept across England, putting the Bible in the hands of the common people in the English language for the first time and it really transformed the nation.    It was at this time that those people spilled into America bringing those core values with them. It was upon those principles John Adams would later call the General Principles of Christianity, that American law, culture and government were established.

A century later, when that flame of faith started flickering, a revival known as the Great Awakening swept across America reinvigorating that faith. It gave them a real sense and appreciation for what they knew as the higher law of God. They were reluctant revolutionaries because the Bible taught them to respect the authority over them, unless that authority attempted to usurp the higher authority of God. They came to view King George III and Parliament as tyrants trying to usurp their inalienable (God-given) rights. That is why they marched off to war under battle flags that carried the slogan “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

Georgene: This is as much a theological statement from their perspective as it is political. They are stating that they believe fundamentally that it is their inalienable right to resist tyrants in order to freely serve God.

Rod: To that generation of Americans and those that preceded them, everything, including politics, was tied to theology. The political center in America at the time of the American Revolution was the local church. The most influential profession in America was the ministry. The ministry and the people in the pews became the moving force of the patriot movement to resist what they viewed as unGodly  tyranny by the King. American ministers were so influential that British leaders referred to them as the “black regiment”. Black for the color of their liturgical gown and regiment for their army-like influence. They really led the people into this American Revolution.

The Continental Congress encouraged days of prayer. You read in newspaper and diary accounts of those days and find the people took those days very seriously. Not all Americans were devout. You had the nominal and the uninterested, but you had a genuine respect for the things of God and they expected their political leadership to do these things. Their leaders would also write letters to the people encouraging them to stand steadfast in their faith, especially in the dark days when there was American defeats and it looked like the American Revolution might fail.  When there was a shortage of Bibles Congress put together a committee that recommended that Bibles be imported from Scotland & Ireland for the American people, and later endorsed the first American edition of the Bible, that some people call the Congressional Bible. Congress also developed a national seal that featured, and still does feature, Biblically based elements.

Georgene: You make the point in your book that the most popular song in the day was not Yankee Doodle which our current culture may make us think, but a battle hymn called Chester, that declares, “Let tyrants shake their iron rod… We fear them not; we trust in God.”  And, upon the news of the British surrender at Yorktown, the Continental Congress marched in a procession to a Philadelphia church to lead the nation in worship.When people make reference to the countries exceptionalism, would you agree that this reliance upon and strategic role He played  in the founding of the nation is one of the major elements that contribute to that exceptionalism.

Rod: I would only disagree, in saying that it was not just one of the elements, but was the foundation.  You can’t hardly separate anything from America’s origins from this  Judeo-Christian world view. During the 150 years of the colonial era that culminated in the American Revolution, and the thirteen colonies, you had a diversity of theology. You had Puritans,  Presbyterians, Dutch Reform, Quakers, Lutheran, Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, and Jews. But, the great common factor was they they were all people of the Book and on that Judeo-Christian world view they established American culture while in government—all felt they had a Biblical obligation to resist the tyranny. It was this great restraint that held them together.

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