Jefferson’s Religious Legacy-Intro

Our book, Doubting Thomas, by Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe deals with the faith or lack thereof of Thomas Jefferson. The documents that the third president went through various stages of religious conviction, while always claiming to be a Christian and while always attending church, usually the Episcopal Church at that, when available to him. He did voice privately some serious doubts later in life. Meanwhile, he did not believe in the “naked public square”—like the ACLU or the Freedom From Religion folks, where they try to drive out every mention of God in pubic. For example, on a regular basis, Jefferson attended the Christian church services on Sunday mornings that were held every week at the U.S. Capitol. He approved that such services would take place…which they did, and continued to do, long after his death.

Here’s a portion of the book, assessing his true religious legacy….

To this point the religious life of Jefferson has been examined as it developed chronologically. There has been no attempt to make any conclusions or deal with any topics in-depth. The three-part true legacy of Jefferson which he suggested that he be remembered for on his own gravestone will be the focus of the next section of this book.


Visible Evidence of History

Shortly after Jefferson’s death in 1826 the Christ Episcopal Church, built with donations and apparently architectural help from Jefferson, was dedicated by the bishop of Virginia. Although a newer sanctuary stands there today, a visitor can still see (in another part of the church) the original reredos, i.e., the writings on the back wall behind the altar (apparently there in Jefferson’s time) that included the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. And a few blocks away stands the courthouse where Jefferson worshiped most of his life. Earlier there he personally organized a Calvinistical Reformed congregation led by the evangelical Rev. Clay, and later shared Sundays approvingly with various denominations, and sometimes even arranged services there for a traveling preacher (such as Presbyterian John Glendy).

Also nearby in downtown Charlottesville today is First Church of Christ (i.e., the Christian Church) that began shortly after Jefferson’s death by those who were part of the Restoration movement. It was non-creedal and accepted non-Trinitarians at first but eventually returned to Trinitarianism as did most such churches. But its building still stands in the city as a reminder of the once dominant mostly non-Trinitarian Restoration movement that had partially shaped Jefferson’s views and many others in his lifetime.

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