Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy
Which of these presidents publicly professed a belief in God?
What was the formal religious group to which these men identified?
The lives of these presidents were complemented with religious associations. Truman and Eisenhower were from midwestern Protestant heritages, while Kennedy was reared in the formalism of the Roman Catholic tradition. Each of their parents played a major role in teaching them Christian precepts, by word and by example.
Faith in God as revealed through Jesus Christ was considered a personal matter. Truman has stated that he read the Bible through twice before beginning his formal schooling. Eisenhower grew up in a tradition of non-baptism of children; and, tied with his military career where he frequently attended nondenominational services, he never formally united with the church until he became President of the United States. (After his nomination his political advisers pressed him to join a church, but he refused to do this for political purposes. It was not until 1953, some 12 days after his inauguration, that he joined the National Presbyterian Church.) Kennedy never held a religious service in the White House. This was his way of demonstrating separation of Church and State.
Each of these men had his own personality. Truman was a spunky, outspoken, and informal president. Eisenhower was a political greenhorn. He was in many ways a humble, modest, and dignified individual. Kennedy was youthful, brainy, witty, and is remembered perhaps more for what he championed than for what he achieved.
The most controversial was Truman. The one who ended public office more popular than he began it was Eisenhower. The one who proved that a Roman Catholic could be president was Kennedy.
All three men began the presidency, as had George Washington and the other presidents who preceded them, by affirming to execute the Office of President faithfully and to protect the Constitution with the closing phrase, "So help me, God."
Following this oath, Truman raised the Bible to his lips. Eisenhower included in his inaugural speech a prayer he had personally written. While there were those who quibbled about this prayer, many Americans were drawn closer to the President because of this act of reaching out to his Maker for strength and inspiration.
Examples of religious significance in the lives of these men include:
"But I love the style of the Bible, the King James Version of the Bible. It is the finest and most stately brand of English there is."
Eisenhower's Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Benson, a Mormon elder, was chiefly responsible for making prayer a routine feature of the Cabinet meetings.
Adoption of the phrase "under God" in our pledge of allegiance to the flag occurred during the Eisenhower years. At a worship service Eisenhower attended at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1954, Dr. George Docherty, the pastor, delivered a sermon emphasizing the lack of a definitive aspect to our pledge to the flag. The pledge, he stated, could be one for any republic, including Russia, so he proposed the pledge to be rewritten: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all." Almost simultaneously with the Congressional passage of the new pledge was a resolution establishing "a room, with facilities for prayer and meditation, for the use of members" of Congress.
Eisenhower served in a period of spiritual renaissance for formal religion. In his view he saw Western Civilization locked in a life and death struggle with a godless system that demeans the dignity and worth of the individual and centers all power in the State. The West can win the struggle only by a renewal of the Christian faith within individuals.
Another example of Eisenhower's practicing religion was when he appeared on TV and asked all Americans to go to their churches the following Sabbath Day and pray for the success of the Summit Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. He stated on a number of occasions that our system of government demanded a Supreme Being. A great deal of affinity may be found between Eisenhower's admonitions and the historical conclusions of Toynbee. With some oversimplification one might state thusly: "There can be no unity of Mankind without the participation of God. "
Kennedy professed to see clearly the distinction of his allegiance to the Constitution and to his Church. On a number of occasions he emphasized this. Religion for him was a private affair. He was opposed to an appointment of an ambassador to the Vatican. Churches throughout our land mark the occasion, and often the pews, where these man shared in formal religious services.
Each of these men demonstrated that a person's conscience has a bearing on his public as well as his private life. None of these men could be considered pious/ but all three created his own style of religious emphases. Perhaps for Truman it was his interest in formalizing relationships with the Vatican; for Eisenhower it was his church relationship which occurred after he became president? and for Kennedy it was his extreme efforts to demonstrate religious independence from the Roman Catholic Church.
Do we have a religious heritage from our presidents'? The answer is an obvious "Yes" for Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.
Presented by Dr. Richard D. Blocker, Director of Student Services and Programs, Arlington Public Schools; Teacher-Counsellor of Youth Council, Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church.
Related albums • See other albumsReligion In The Lives Of The American Presidents
Related peoplePres. Harry S. Truman
President Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower I
President John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy
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