Saturday, June 13, 2009

Congress Says "Repent of Your Sins!"

The Library of Congress exhibit Faith of Our Forefathers has a section describing religious faith and actions present in the Congress of the Confederation before the Revolutionary War and up to the time of the Constitution's ratification. In it we discover that the Congress actually relied on religious faith and encouraged the population to confess their sins and repent! Can you imagine Congress today doing so? Would there be laughter?

From the Library of Congress article:

Religion and the Congress of the Confederation, 1774-1789

The Continental-Confederation Congress, a legislative body that also exercised executive power, governed the United States from 1774 to 1789 and left an impressive list of accomplishments, not the least of which was winning the war with Great Britain, the greatest military power of the age. Congress, as it was always called, contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men, some of whom -- John Dickinson, Elias Boudinot and Charles Thomson, for example -- retired from public life to write religious tracts and commentaries and publish new translations of the Bible.

The amount of energy that Congress invested in encouraging the practice of religion throughout the new nation exceeded that expended by any subsequent American national government.

Congress appointed chaplains to minister to itself and to the armed forces; it sponsored the publication of a Bible; it imposed Christian morality on the armed forces; and it granted public lands to promote Christianity among the Indians. Most conspicuous were the national days of thanksgiving and of "humiliation, fasting and prayer" that Congress proclaimed at least twice a year throughout the war. These proclamations were always accompanied by sermonettes in which Congress urged the American populace to confess and repent its sins as a way of moving God to grant national prosperity.

Scholars have recognized that Congress was guided by "covenant theology," a Reformation doctrine especially dear to New England Puritans, which held that God had bound himself in an agreement with a nation and its people, stipulating that they "should be prosperous or afflicted, according as their general Obedience or Disobedience thereto appears." Wars and revolutions were, accordingly, considered afflictions, as divine punishments for sin, from which a nation could rescue itself by repentance and reformation. Year in and year out, therefore, Congress urged its fellow citizens to repent "of their manifold sins" and strive that "pure undefiled religion, may universally prevail."

The Continental-Confederation Congress, the first national government of the United States, was convinced that the "public prosperity" of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a "spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens," Congress declared to the American people on March 19, 1782, would "make us a holy, that so we may be a happy, people."

Read more on this page:

Faith of Our Forefathers

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