Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969) is best known both as the Allied Commander in World War II and as the 34th president of the United States. He is not generally thought of as a religious thinker. But in fact his presidency epitomised the quasi-sacral role of that office as “high priest” of the “American civic religion”, as sociologists put it.
Eisenhower’s parents were of German descent, and having been Lutheran, were River Brethren (a Mennonite offshoot) by the time Ike was born. Later his mother became a Jehovah’s Witness. Although he attended River Brethren Sunday School as a child, he did not join a denomination until being baptised Presbyterian in the presidential election year of 1952.
A month before his inauguration in December of that year, Eisenhower stated his creed: “They [the Founding Fathers] explained: ‘We hold that all men are endowed by their Creator …’ not by the accident of their birth, not by the colour of their skins or by anything else, but ‘all men are endowed by their Creator’. In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judaeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men are created equal.”
Effectively he is endorsing any religiosity that would serve a glue for the state, and he and his wife were frequent attendees at church during his administration – which opened with a self-penned prayer at his first inaugural address.
He supported the addition of the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance; the adoption of “In God We Trust” as the national motto; and originated the National Day of Prayer, urging folk to attend their church, but himself spent the day golfing.
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