Christian Men's Breakfast

Presentation by Chuck Esposito

April 7, 2007

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“America’s Christian roots” (continued)


Thank you I.T., and good morning gentlemen.

Last month when I arrived here, IT announced to me that April was “my month” and that he expected me to show up here today, prepared to address you. I guess April became “my month” because, for reasons of fate, chance, or whatever, I have stood here before you in April of 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. Actually, I think last year it was MAR, not APR, but I’ll ask you to ignore that minor detail.

[Announce JJ diagnosis]

As in the past, I have written down the words I want to say to you today, and I ask you to bear with me as a I read to you for a while – I promise it will be less than ten minutes.

Today is April 7. Some of you may recall that it was on this date in 2003, exactly four years ago today, that US troops captured Baghdad.

I usually conclude my remarks with a prayer for our troops, but this time, I’m going to reverse things and begin with a prayer, so if you would, please, bow your heads and join me.

Dear Lord,
Today there are about half a million , American men and women –
stationed in 150 countries around the world.

We pray You keep them safe,
we pray You keep them strong,
we pray You send them safely home ...

Bless those who await their safe return.

And Bless the friends and relatives who mourn the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan:

The MIAs, the 24,476 wounded, and the 3,266 Killed In Action.

In Jesus name we ask ...Amen.

Those of you who have heard me speak here before may recall that a recurring theme of mine has been the Christian roots of the founding of our nation, and this morning I’m going to continue on that theme, by sharing with you, some remarks about, and quotations from, the revolutionary period, and the early days of our republic.

But first, a bit of humor for you:

Supposedly, all of the statements I am about to read, have actually appeared in Church Bulletins:

Here’s the first one:

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale next Tuesday. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

The next one:
Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

The Rector will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing: "Break Forth Into Joy."

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married Last Saturday in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

And the final entry:
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM. Please use the large double door at the side entrance.

To begin the serious part of my remarks, I’d like to read an excerpt from a September 7, 1774 letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail, describing the opening of the first session of the First Continental Congress:

QUOTE: When the Congress met, Mr. Cushing made a motion that it should be opened with a prayer. The motion was opposed by Mr. Jay of NY, and Mr. Rutledge of SC because we were so divided in religious sentiments (some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists), that we could not join in the same act of worship.

Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said that he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend to his country. He was a stranger in Philadelphia and had heard that Mr. Duché deserved that character and therefore he moved that Mr. Duché, an Episcopal clergyman, might be desired to read prayers to Congress tomorrow morning.

The motion was seconded, and passed in the affirmative. Mr. Randolph, our president, prevailed on Mr. Duché, and received for answer, that if his health would permit, he certainly would.

Accordingly, next morning the Reverend Mr. Duché appeared with his clerk and in his pontificals, and read several prayers in the established form and read the 35th Psalm. After this Mr. Duché, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced.

Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself and his personal pastor never prayed with such fervor, such ardor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so elegant and sublime, - for America, for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here.”

A couple of years later, on July 9, 1776, the Second Continental Congress authorized the Continental army to provide chaplains for their troops. There wasn’t much of a bureaucracy back in those days so when the Congress made an authorization, it got into the field pretty quickly, and it was on that very same day that General George Washington, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, issued the order to appoint chaplains to every regiment.

A year and a bit later, on September 11, 1777, the Continental Congress approved and recommended that 20,000 copies of the holy Bible be imported, in response to the shortage of Bibles in America caused by the Revolutionary war interrupting trade.

The First US Congress, as one of its early items of business, adopted the policy of selecting a chaplain to open each session with prayer. Thus, on April 7, 1789 (exactly 218 years ago today), the Senate appointed a committee "to take under consideration the manner of electing Chaplains." Later that month, the Senate elected its first chaplain, the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, Episcopal Bishop of New York, and the House followed suit the following month by appointing William Lynn, a Presbyterian from Philadelphia. A statute providing for the payment of these chaplains was enacted into law on September 22, 1789.

On Friday, September 25, just three days after Congress authorized the appointment of paid chaplains, final agreement was reached on the language of the Bill of Rights, including the religious clause of the First Amendment, which reads: QUOTE Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (16)

Clearly the men who endorsed the Bill of Rights did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment. In fact, the Representative who introduced the wording of the Amendment as adopted in the House of Representatives* was a lesser known player, named Fisher Ames (1758~1808), a congressman from Massachusetts in the first session of the US Congress. A month later, in an article published in Palladium Magazine, Fisher Ames stated:

QUOTE: We have a dangerous trend beginning to take place in our education. We're starting to put more and more textbooks into our schools. We've become accustomed of late of putting little books into the hands of children, containing fables and moral lessons … we are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principal text in our schools … the Bible states these great moral lessons better than any man-made book."

So here we have the author of the House version of the First Amendment, lamenting the fact that schools are not spending enough time on the Bible, and characterizing that situation as a “dangerous trend.” Today, I think we can safely say, that he clearly saw the writing on the wall.

I began my remarks this morning with a quote from John Adams, written in 1774 when he was age 38, and I’d like to close with another one from him. This was written later in life, when he was about twice as old - age 77 – and he was reflecting back on the early days.

On June 28, 1813, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams wrote:

QUOTE: The general principles, on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young gentleman could unite ….And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity…

Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the existence and attributes of God…”

Thank you for your attention and God willing, I hope to be back up here again next April.

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