Thanks to the mass media, few Americans are spared public displays of presidential
piety. Every modern president ends his speeches with the words, "God bless America."
On Sundays, the TV cameras reveal the president heading off to church, his Bible
clutched firmly in hand. Sadly, over the decades however, we've had more and more
reason to doubt the sincerity of some of these displays.
But there's one
place in Washington where we can see a moving display of genuine presidential
piety: the National Cathedral. If you visit the cathedral you will find a statue
of Abraham Lincoln poised on his knees.
The statue's pose represents a
type of moral leadership that is, sadly, in short supply these days.
Americans don't realize that Lincoln actually instituted many forms of public
recognition of God that we take for granted today. During his presidency, he declared
more days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving than any president before or since.
And, few realize that our traditional Thanksgiving celebration became a national
holiday only after Lincoln's proclamation in 1863.
Yet, despite this pious
pedigree, Lincoln was not actually committed to orthodox Christianity until close
to the end of his life.
As a young man, Lincoln openly questioned the truth
of Scripture, we learn from Marvin Olasky's book, The
American Leadership Tradition. Even after he became president, Olasky
writes, Lincoln's "god in 1861 and 1862 was [the] Union," not Jehovah.
in 1862, Lincoln's life took a dramatic turn. The war was not going well for the
Union, and Lincoln was being savaged in both the Yankee and Confederate press.
Personal tragedy struck as well, when his beloved son Willie died suddenly. Lincoln's
wife, Mary Todd, turned to spiritism and seances -- but her husband instead sought
his solace in the Bible. Confronted with the loss of little Willie and yet another
devastating Union defeat at the second Battle of Manassas, a humbled Lincoln finally
embraced Christ. "My own wisdom seemed insufficient," he wrote to a friend. I
was "driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have
nowhere else to go."
Lincoln then became a regular church attendee. He
became so impressed with the importance of worship that he even refused to permit
some churches to be converted into badly needed hospitals.
and slavery, Lincoln saw no easy answers. He became convinced that blame for the
war lay on both sides. Faced with the realities of the miserable conflict, he
resigned himself to God's providence.
It was the horrors of war that forced
him to seek refuge in God; there, he found true peace. Lincoln's words speak for
themselves. He told a friend: "When everyone seemed panic-stricken, I got down
on my knees before Almighty God and prayed. Soon a sweet comfort crept into my
Today many parents are looking desperately for examples of moral
leadership -- for people they can hold up as examples for their children to imitate.
We need to teach our kids to look beyond the outward signs of piety -- like carrying
a Bible in front of TV cameras -- and look for more authentic signs of Christian
One great example comes from one of our greatest presidents
-- the man who was converted to Christ in office -- and sought answers to the
most pressing dilemma of the day on his knees.
Order your copy of Marvin
Olasky's book, The
American Leadership Tradition.
More Church History
More from Spiritual Life
with Chuck Colson is a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship
Ministries. © Prison Fellowship
Ministries. Reprinted with permission.
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