Faith Works: George Washington and the prophet Micah – The Newark Advocate

Posted By on August 16, 2020

Jeff Gill, Guest Columnist Published 1:32 p.m. ET Aug. 15, 2020

George Washington came to Newport, Rhode Island, 230 years ago this week.

As a general during the American Revolution he had been there, but as President of the United States he had skipped over a Rhode Island visit earlier because the state had not yet ratified the new Constitution.

But in 1790 they did so, and to affirm that choice, along with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and other top officials of the new nation, Washington came to the thriving seaport on August 17of that year.

He was greeted, as youd expect, by a series of speeches by local officials. One of them was Moses Seixas, an official of Yeshuat Israel, the first synagogue for Jewish people in that place, and one of relatively few in the country.

Celebrating Washingtons presence, and the new system of governance he represented, Seixas said in his address that he and his people were glad to be part of a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistancebut generously affording to All liberty of conscience. This had not always been true in those waters, as anyone who knows the history of Rhode Island vis a vis nearby Massachusetts can attest. Pilgrims fought with Puritans, Unitarians rebelled against Congregationalists, and dissenters of all sorts got expelled from Boston and came to Providence and Newport where they then had a residual tendency to expel people who dissented from them (and almost everyone harried the Native Americans off of their land, all within living memory in 1790).

But that line, saying of America that here we are to be governed by authorities whom to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, comes from the Jewish community leader Moses Seixas. It has entered our common lexicon of America, though, because a few days later George Washington sat down to write thank you notes to those who greeted him in Newport, and to Seixas and the Touro Synagogue which you can still visit and I recommend the experience! he wrote a very beautiful and deeply meaningful letter.

You see, one of the points of contention around ratifying the Constitution had to do with that pesky First Amendment, which was specifically intended among other things to forbid the federal government from formally establishing any one church as a state church and in 1790, half of the new states had state churches. Including Massachusetts until 1833 with Congregationalism, and Rhode Islands other neighbor Connecticut likewise; Roger Williams had come to establish Rhode Island in the 1600s as a refuge for, among other things, separation of church and state. His Baptist faith became a central element in the new colony, but it was never the established church. This attracted Baptists and Quakers and Jews to Rhode Island; Catholics were tolerated, barely, until the good behavior of French naval officers during the Revolution made such a good impression in Newport that it led to formal permission to build a Catholic church there (where JFK & Jackie would be married decades later).

Washingtons thank you to the Touro Synagogue in 1790 nears its conclusion with this: May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants. And rather than affirm mere toleration of religious pluralism, he emphasizes religious liberty in the exercise of inherent natural rights, echoing Jeffersons words in the Declaration of Independence, on the heels of repeating and reframing Sexiass powerful phrase: for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

What I find most appealing in what our first President says to the Jewish community of Newport in 1790, and through them to us today, is when he quotes Micah 4:4 about what the good will of the other Inhabitants is intended to bring about: while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. Every one, not just George or Moses, but all of us.

His last line is: May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

Signed simply G. Washington.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; hes weeding his vine and fig tree this morning. Tell him how you use your religious liberty at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Read or Share this story: https://www.newarkadvocate.com/story/opinion/2020/08/15/faith-works-jeff-gill-george-washington-and-prophet-micah/3343889001/

Go here to see the original:

Faith Works: George Washington and the prophet Micah - The Newark Advocate

Related Post

Comments

Comments are closed.