The Rushmore Report: The 3 Presidents Who Didn’t Have a Church

In American history we have had 44 presidents. All of them had a church – except three. We have had Baptists, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, Methodists, Quakers, Unitarians, and a Roman Catholic. But not all of our presidents had a church. Three of them did not, and their names may surprise you: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson.

1. Thomas Jefferson – The architect of the Declaration of Independence was most closely aligned with Unitarianism. He was sympathetic to the general precepts of Christianity and believed in the afterlife. He considered the teachings of Jesus to be “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man,” yet he held that the pure teachings of Jesus might have been the actual writings of others. In his First Inaugural Address, he said that “acknowledging and adoring an overruling providence” was important to his administration. But Thomas Jefferson, while a deist, could not accurately be called a Christian. And he was the first president who was never a member of any church.

2. Abraham Lincoln – Though the specifics of Lincoln’s faith are ambiguous, he was a man of faith. While not identifying a faith commitment in terms of personal conversion and salvation, he adhered to Christian principles and often attended a Presbyterian church near the White House. Lincoln grew up in a Baptist home, made frequent references to God in his speeches, and had a deep knowledge of Scripture. The Senate Chaplain, Phineas Gurley, believed that Lincoln believed in Christ in a religious sense. But he once wrote, “When I do good I feel good. When I do bad I feel bad. And that’s my religion.” Though espousing a belief in God and Christ on some level, Lincoln never affiliated with a local church as an adult.

3. Andrew Johnson – Though his parents were religious (Baptists), Johnson is considered the most irreligious of all our presidents. His wife, Eliza, was a committed Methodist, and the president occasionally accompanied her to church, but he always kept his distance from church leaders and personal involvement. G. F. Milton quoted Johnson as saying, “As for my religion, it is the doctrine of the Bible, as taught and practiced by Jesus Christ.” But little in his daily routine or Sunday church practice gave support to this as a real priority in his life. Andrew Johnson never joined any church.

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