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An American President Tells Why We Should Attend Church


Later this month we will observe the 157th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s birth. One of the greatest presidents of the United States; the “Most Interesting American”; and, often forgotten, one of the most devout and observant Christians to have served as Chief Executive.

TR frequently quoted Bible verses (and titled two of his approximately 50 books from Biblical passages); he volunteered to teach Sunday School while a student at Harvard; he often delivered impromptu sermons when requested at churches he visited (and seldom missed Sunday worship throughout his life, whether in the wild west or in the White House); and, despite higher-profile and more lucrative offers after he retired from the presidency, he became Contributing Editor of The Outlook, a modest weekly Christian opinion journal.

His faith, of course, was “manly,” in the parlance of an earlier age – bold, unapologetic, encouraging. He once said, in an address to the newly formed Gideon Band: “The Christianity that counts is the kind that is carried into a man’s life. The man who does ordinary work well is working for the Lord. I do not like to see a slack man…. If you do not find in a man any outward manifestations of the Spirit, I am inclined to doubt if it ever has been in him. I like to see fruits…”

In the same manner he also spoke at a church dedication: “In business and in work, if you let Christianity stop as you go out of the church door, there is little righteousness in you. You must behave to your fellowmen as you would have them behave to you. You must have pride in your work if you would succeed. A man should get justice for himself, but he should also do justice to others. Help a man to help himself, but do not expend all your efforts in helping a man who will not help himself.”

Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite Bible verse was Micah 6:8 – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Imagine this today, but in 1917 Roosevelt wrote an article for the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine, and the subject was “10 Reasons Men Should Go To Church.” Imagine a president of our time writing for magazines as diverse as Ladies’ Home Journal, The Outlook (and National Geographic and the children’s magazine St Nicholas and The American Historical Review and Cosmopolitan and The New York Times and American Museum Journal and…). And imagine a president today exclaiming Christian faith. Frequently. But to TR every venue was a pulpit, and a bully one at that.

Words for then, words for now: here is his article on Why men should attend church.

In the actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid downgrade.

Church work and church attendance mean the cultivation of the habit of feeling some responsibility for others and the sense of braced moral strength, which prevents a relaxation of one’s own moral fiber.

There are enough holidays for most of us that can quite properly be devoted to pure holiday making. Sundays differ from other holidays, among other ways, in the fact that there are 52 of them every year. On Sunday, go to church.

Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in church. But I also know as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or thus dedicate himself. If he strays from church, he does not spend his time in good works or lofty meditation. He looks over the colored supplement of the newspaper.

He may not hear a good sermon at church. But unless he is very unfortunate, he will hear a sermon by a good man who, with his good wife, is engaged all the week long in a series of wearing, humdrum, and important tasks for making hard lives a little easier.

He will listen to and take part in reading some beautiful passages from the Bible. And if he is not familiar with the Bible, he has suffered a loss.

He will probably take part in singing some good hymns.

He will meet and nod to, or speak to, good quiet neighbors. He will come away feeling a little more charitably toward all the world, even toward those excessively foolish young men who regard churchgoing as rather a soft performance.

I advocate a man’s joining in church works for the sake of showing his faith by his works.

The man who does not in some way, active or not, connect himself with some active, working church misses many opportunities for helping his neighbors, and therefore, incidentally, for helping himself.

Think about Theodore Roosevelt on October 27… and then think about the things one of our greats president thought about!

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Judy Collins and the Boy’s Choir of Harlem, at the U S Capitol:

Click: Amazing Grace

Who Was the Most Christian American President?


On President’s Day this is a topic that has relevance, perhaps more so when “social issues” inhabit headlines. Lest we judge, lest we be judged, we should acknowledge that it is an open question with no definitive answer, yet a fit topic for discussion. In the end, addressing who might have been the most observant president would hew closer to historical evidence and verifiable records.

I addressed the topic last President’s Day, it proved to be the most popular – or at least the recipient of the most “hits” and reactions – in the three years I have been blogging and writing devotional essays. Are people hungry for intellectual “parlor games”… or wanting to connect the dots between political leaders and Christian faith?

First: Presidents’ Day is a holiday one of whose aspects I abhor: its mush-brained attempt at “inclusiveness.” Beyond a thank-you for the time certain presidents served, and sacrifices they probably made – already covered by various grade schools named for them, and the pensions they received – simply doing one’s job should not be justification for a federal holiday.

To honor all is a way of honoring none. For historical saps like James Buchanan, sharing a national holiday with Abraham Lincoln is to knock the latter off a pedestal. Historical accidents like John Tyler and Millard Fillmore should not be mentioned in the same hemisphere as George Washington. Some few presidents did great things in great ways.

The impetus for President’s Day was provided by unions and retailers, who desired another long weekend on the standard calendar. The result? Our civic saints live in the popular image, now, as Abe Lincoln impersonators hawking used cars on TV commercials; and George Washington (his talking portrait on animated dollar bills), not the Father of His Country, but the Father of the President’s Day Weekend of Unbelievable Bargains and Sales.

Americans used to reject, but now embrace, the Marxian mindset of mediocrity – every thing, and every one, must be leveled. In America today we pull down some of humankind’s greatest figures, like Washington and Lincoln, in order to – what? not hurt the feelings of Franklin Pierce and Chester Alan Arthur? There’s a lesson for our school children: grow up to become president, have a pulse, and you, too, will have post offices close a day in your honor.

Obviously I am eager to honor Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays, this month, officially have been homogenized, as have their reputations. I do honor them, frequently, in my writing, and in discussions, and conversations with children, and in my reading and my studies. So should we all do with people and causes that we revere, even more urgently when the culture obscures them from our vision.

In my case I hold Theodore Roosevelt in particular regard. Last October my biography of him, BULLY! (Regnery History, 440 pages, illustrated entirely by vintage political cartoons), was published, and I devoted a chapter to TR’s faith. (Indeed, I am working on a full book on the theme.) One thing I have come to appreciate about TR is something that largely has been neglected by history books. That is, the aspect of his fervent Christian faith. In some ways, he might be seen as the most Christian and the most religious of all presidents; and by “religious” I mean most observant.

This is (admittedly) a subjective list, and a difficult one to compute and compile. TR’s name at the top of the list might surprise some people, yet that surprise would itself bear witness to the nature of his faith: privately held, but permeating countless speeches, writings, and acts. (A step out of character for this man who otherwise exhibited most of multi-faceted personality to the world!) His favorite verse was Micah 6:8 – “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

He was of the Dutch Reformed Church. He participated in missions work with his father, a noted philanthropist. He taught weekly Sunday School classes during his four years at Harvard. He wrote for Christian publications.

He called his bare-the-soul speech announcing his principles when running in 1912, “A Confession of Faith.” Later he closed perhaps the most important speech of his life, the clarion-call acceptance of the Progressive Party nomination that year, with the words, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” That convention featured evangelical hymns and closed with “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

He titled one his books Foes of Our Own Household (after Matthew 10:36) and another, Fear God and Take Your Own Part. He once wrote an article for The Ladies’ Home Journal, “Nine Reasons Why Men Should Go To Church.” After TR left the White House, he was offered university presidencies and many other prominent jobs. He chose instead to become Contributing Editor of The Outlook, a relatively small Christian weekly magazine.

He was invited to deliver the Earl Lectures at Pacific Theological Seminary in 1911, but declined due to a heavy schedule. Knowing he would be near Berkeley on a speaking tour, however, he offered to deliver the lectures if he might be permitted to speak extemporaneously, not having time to prepare written texts of the five lectures, as was the school’s customary requirement. It was agreed, and TR spoke for 90 minutes each evening – from the heart and without notes – on the Christian’s role in modern society.

… and so on. TR was not perfect, but he knew the One who is. Fond of saying that he would “speak softly and carry a big stick,” it truly can be said, also, that Theodore Roosevelt hid the Word in his heart, and acted boldly. He was a great American because he was thoroughgoing good man; and he was a good man because he was a humble believer.

Remember Theodore Roosevelt on President’s Day. Remember him on his own birthday, Oct 27. Remember him every day – we are not seeing his kind any more.

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Not a song or hymn this week, but a video clip. From the great movie The Wind and the Lion: “The world will never love the US; it might respect us; it might come to fear us; but it will never love us.” A wonderful portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt by Brian Keith in John Milius’s 1975 motion picture.

Click: The Affinity of America and the Grizzly Bear

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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More