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Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents

A series of lectures organized and compiled by the Forum Class, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Washington DC, in 1976. Full text online

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Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford

Gerald R. Ford was a child of a broken marriage. He was born Leslie Lynch King on July 14, 1913 to Dorothy Gardner and Leslie King. That marriage foundered almost from the start; they were divorced in 1915 and Mrs. King returned to her parents' home in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her young son. Dorothy King, attractive and in her early twenties, caught the eye of a young bachelor, Gerald R. Ford, at an Episcopal social and they were soon married. Formal adoption papers were taken out for her young son, who was renamed Gerald R. Ford, Jr. He was raised by a devoted and wise stepfather.

Calvinist emigres from the Netherlands pushed into Michigan, including Grand Rapids, in the middle 1800’ s with a religious fervor and quickly became the primary ethnic influence throughout Western Michigan. The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church, the principal denominations of the Dutch, became the dominant faiths in that region. Dutch Calvinists frowned on drinking, card playing, social dancing, going to the movies and work or play on the Sabbath.

Jerry Ford escaped the rigors of Calvinist upbringing that was the lot of many of his friends arid acquaintances. His stepfather, although not "churchy" in the way of his Dutch neighbors and customers, believed in the Golden Rule and helping other people. From his earliest days, Ford remembers his mother and stepfather being active in community life and projects centering around the Grace Episcopal to which they belonged. Both were fund raisers for charity, for Boy Scouts, and for the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra. One of Ford, Sr.’s pet ventures was to organize programs to assist underprivileged youth.

One day Ford, Jr. while working to make ends meet in his family was startled by a man approaching him and announcing that he was Ford, Jr.’s father. This man stated that he had been divorced from Ford's mother. Ford, Jr., in his 17th year at the time, did not know until then that his mother had been divorced when he was a baby and that he had been adopted by Ford, Sr. Mother and Dad and Ford, Jr. talked late in their home after the young man got home. Jerry, Jr. did a lot of growing up that night.

Ford, Jr. was graduated from the University of Michigan in 1935 with a "B" average and a liberal arts degree. He later entered Yale and finished in the top third of his Yale Law School class.

In 1948 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Fifth Congressional District of Michigan and continued to be elected from that District until 1973. On January 4, 1965 he was chosen as the New Minority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1973, President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford for Vice President of the United States, and this nomination was later confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 6, 1973. Following the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford became President of the United States on August 9, 1974.

From childhood President Ford belonged to the Episcopal Church and took an active part with his mother and stepfather at Grace Episcopal at Grand Rapids. President and Mrs. Ford were married in that Church and have belonged to the Immanuel-Church-on-the-Hill Episcopal Church, Alexandria, Virginia for more than 25 years. On occasion they also attend the St. John's Episcopal Church, which is located just about a block from the White House.

In addition to their formal church activities, the Ford family also relies on their close friend, Billy Zeoli of Grand Rapids, Michigan for spiritual guidance. Billy Zeoli is the energetic President of a company named Gospel Films in Muskegon, Michigan. He is a graduate of Wheaton College, minister of the Independent Presbyterian Church and a former Youth for Christ Director. According to one report, Gerald Ford, while House Minority Leader, felt an intensity of faith and "accepted Christ" during a service Zeoli conducted before the Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys game in 1971. It is clear that Gerald Ford has found in Billy Zeoli his personal chaplain. President Ford wrote to Billy Zeoli: "Because I have trusted Christ to be my Savior, my life is His.” When Mrs. Ford had to have surgery for breast cancer, Billy Zeoli was with the Ford family giving comfort and counsel.

When President Ford was sworn into office, he rested his hand on a verse from the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:5-6). "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." While a Congressman, President Ford participated in many intimate prayer meetings with Melvin Laird, Albert Quie of Minnesota, John Rhodes of Arizona and several other Congressmen who felt the need of attending these prayer groups.

President Ford made the following remarks at the 23rd Annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on January 30, 1975:

"On the day that I suddenly became President of the United States, after all the guests had gone, I walked through some of the empty rooms on the first floor of the White House and stopped by the marble mantle in the dining room to read the words carved in it - words that were a prayer of the First President who ever occupied the White House:

’I pray to Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it." President Ford then stated at this National Prayer Breakfast: "My own prayer is for God's continued guidance for our country and all its people whose servants we in government strive to be."

Michael Ford, the President’s son, is currently attending the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Wenham, Massachusetts. In January 1974 when his father had been confirmed by Congress as Vice President of the United States, Michael Ford offered a prayer at a prayer breakfast in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which also seems an appropriate prayer to offer on behalf of Gerald Ford as the President of the United States. Part of this prayer is as follows: "We collectively lift up to You one of Your children, Gerald Ford, in his position of leadership in this great nation. You have called him to a tremendously demanding task in a turbulent and critical time in history. It is our prayer. Lord, that You would bless him with discernment and good judgment as he seeks to carry out the many responsibilities laid before him. Grant him courage to trust in You always and not in the things of the world. Work in his heart the desire to seek Your guidance and direction in all things. We humbly pray that Your Holy Spirit, who reveals all truth and who gives all life, may dwell in him and also in us, that together as Your faithful children we may walk in Your ways and glorify Your name. We ask this in Christ's name and for His sake. Amen."

Presented by Mr. Forrest F. Burgess, Chairman of the Evangelism Commission and the Ushering Committee; former Chairman of the Administrative Board; and formerly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents

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Posted By: Cameron Ott

Updated: 6-4-2016