A look at the roots of the rebellion

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Contrary to what some conservative Christian Nationalists would have us believe, the Founding Fathers were not motivated by the desire to found a Christian nation when they decided to write the Declaration of Independence and rebel against Great Britain.

When Britain tried to tax their American colonies to pay for its wars against France, the colonies rebelled. The rebellion was experienced as a secular event, a violent struggle against imperial power, not as an effort to establish a Christian Republic.

Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and Adams were all men of the Enlightenment, inspired by Locke and Newton and were also, for the most part, Deists. Deism differed from orthodox Christianity by, among other things, rejecting the doctrines of revelation and the divinity of Christ.

The Declaration of Independence was an Enlightenment document, not a Christian one. It was based on Locke’s theory of self-evident rights and the ideals of freedom and equality. While most American colonists at the time may have aligned themselves with Christianity, that was not true of the authors of the Declaration we celebrate on July 4th.

The American Revolution was fought to free the colonies from what they interpreted as unfair taxation and unjust imperial subversion and to establish a nation grounded in the Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality. Jefferson believed that all religions, including Christianity, were merely sets of belief that should not be imposed on the majority. With Madison, he subscribed to the belief that no idea should be immune from investigation or outright rejection and that obligatory belief (established religion) violated a fundamental human right. “Civil rights,” Jefferson claimed, “have no dependence upon our religious opinions…”

We ignore or misrepresent this history to our peril.

Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopal priest, former lawyer and a Washington resident.