The G. of G. #4: In God We Trust

Are you familiar with how the motto, “In God We Trust,” came to be placed on our coins and bills? It’s interesting. Often times, it seems that conflict is necessary for humans to be humbled and to face their need. I’m sure that each of us can personally concur.

I’ll get to a short version of that story. But first, I want to ask you this. Did you read any of the four Christian worldview articles that I listed in my previous post? If not, I’d encourage you to check out this site:!

These worldview articles will not only help you to see biblical principles that impact social issues and public policy, but they will also give you good examples of how to build biblical perspectives on issues and show you how to improve the biblical shape of your own worldview. A Christian worldview is not static. No matter how old I am,  I’m finding that I can continually grow toward a more sound view and practice.

This is the fourth article in a series entitled The Grammar of Government.*1  I plan to write one or two more articles in this series before moving on to another theme.

Have you re-read The Constitution of the United States recently? The Declaration of Independence? Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights are often studied in conjunction with The Declaration of Independence and compared with colonial charters and constitutions, and colonial self-governing perspectives and practices. Fascinating.

Have you noticed that the Constitution of the United States never references God?

The Constitution of the United States of America begins with this famous sentence:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Yes, our founders followed a different “style guide” for language, so they capitalized words for emphasis, a practice we no longer follow. It is interesting to note the emphasized words, some obvious and some curious. The capitalization of the word, Order, intrigues me. It suggests that the articulation of these principles and policies are given purposefully — intended to produce these states goals. “A more perfect Union” implies a progression toward these stated goals, not a jump to the completed attainment of the goals.

Now, contrast this opening with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . .”

If this begins the second paragraph, what was the first? Actually, the first paragraph is one, long sentence. You remember it. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary….” The sentence sets up the purpose for this declaration. The purpose is to “declare the causes which impel them” to separation from the mother country in order to claim the “separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

Do you see the contrasting introductions between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence? The Constitution was composed thirteen years after the Declaration of Independence. Might the second document assume the premise and worldview of the first? Probably.

I think that early American history shows this to be so; however, the omission in the Constitution of a God reference has also created an advantageous wedge for “progressive,” secularizing views.

Born in Connecticut, Emma Willard (1787 – 1870) was an educational pioneer in  Vermont and New York for female education. She opened the first school for girls in America and worked at developing a well-rounded, academic  curriculum (beyond music, art, and personal deportment, typical of “finishing schools” ) and wrote various textbooks such as  History of the United States, or Republic of America (1828). Believing that Christian principles were foundational to academic education and to the health of America, she encouraged teachers to “‘bring God into all subjects,’ that their pupils might begin to see His wonderful government of the universe in all its aspects.”*2

Emma Willard clustered together our Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, and George Washington’s Farewell Address, referring to them as our “political Scriptures.”  These documents were included in full in her American history textbook.

What would we call our “political Scriptures” today? Well, first, we must admit that no document in our history can be placed on a par with the Holy Scriptures, but by “political Scriptures” Willard meant that these three documents were the anchor and directing eyes of our Constitutional Republic.

Hillsdale College has put together what it calls The U.S. Constitution: A Reader. Under nine categories it lists 94 documents (including the above mentioned): essays, speeches, and documents that Hillsdale considers to be foundational American writings. Reading these will educate us on our real history. It is an amazing list of primary documents, and I see that I have read only a number of these, plus quotations and references to various ones. A free digital version is available at

In his fascinating book, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story, Gary DeMar includes a chapter entitled “God and the Constitution.” In this chapter he explores the issue of the Constitution’s lack of reference to God and theories as to why this is. He contrasts this omission with the presence of references to God and the Bible in many early, founding documents. He states, “The Constitution did not repudiate the Christian foundations established by the state constitutions, but it did err by not acknowledging God as the source of all authority and power.”*3

Later in the chapter under a subheading, “An Imperfect Document,” DeMar notes that only the Bible is God-breathed and that the framers of the Constitution were not “moved by the Holy Spirit”; they did not speak for God (2 Peter 1:20).  He states, “The most serious imperfections of the national Constitution are the absence of any direct reference to God and its failure to condemn slavery.”*4

Truly, forming a “more perfect union” must require continued conflict between good and evil, and between wise and foolish principles and positions. Ideas have consequences.

As Rosalie J. Slater explained in 1965, “As we shifted from a God-centered republic to a man-centered democracy — we began to flounder.”*5  By 1965? Where we are today?  But this quotation concludes a paragraph in which Slater was showing that way back in the 1830s – 50s, Americans had begun to surrender Christian education from the home and church to government sponsored schools, with encroaching secularism and a shift in emphasis from Christian character to “a group character, conformable to society.”*6  Do you think she is right?

While our Constitution does not directly reference God, it does reference liberty (II Cor. 3:17), and when this document is placed with most early American writings, we can see an assumption of a general, Christian worldview at that time.

I began this post wondering how it is that “In God We Trust” became America’s motto placed on her coins and bills. Our early money did not have this motto placed on it. In 1862 (what was occurring in our history then?), Rev. Henry A. Boardman of Philadelphia stated in a sermon that “The coinage of the United States is without a God.”*7  Many people were requesting a reference to God on our money.

It was in 1865 that the Congress authorized that the motto be placed upon coins. In God We Trust. DeMar insightfully observes, “The interest to secure a place for the motto was so high because of the events of the civil war. Repentance and trust in God were themes that echoed through the nation after blood of so many had been shed.” *8

Notably, the motto was dropped in 1907. When someone complained to President Theodore Roosevelt about this, the president wrote back that there was “no legal warrant for putting the motto on the coins.” *7 This is a lesson for us that we can’t assume that our government officials know their own history. It may be easier today, with so many legal assistants and the ease of technologically driven research to keep track of what is enacted, authorized, and legal, and what is not.

So the following year, Congress again authorized the motto to be restored. In 1955 the motto was added to paper bills. In 1956, the motto became our nation’s official motto.

This is good for us to think about today, as we conclude a year of sideswiping upheaval. As we look at our coins and bills, we can ask ourselves if this affirmation is true of us, on a daily basis.

“We the people,” as our Constitution calls us, are “created equal,” and we “are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” as our Declaration of Independence affirms. Probably the best thing we can do as individuals to promote “a more perfect union” is to heed the claim of our coins: In God We Trust.

No matter our health, wealth, or elected officials (do exercise your voting stewardship), an essential element of our Grammar of Government is this: In God We Trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

*1. In the first article in this series, The Grammar of Government,  I wrote, “Long before government becomes political, it is personal.” I listed what we may call the flow  or thread of government moving from God (the ultimate authority) to the individual in self-government (personal responsibility), to families (household government), the church (ecclesiastical government), to communities (local government), and political states (state and national government). Self-government also refers to the form of civil government we have in the United States of America: a constitutional republic.

Our civil government derives its authority from the authority of the citizenry through a system of elected, representative leadership, and this government works under the authority of our duly ordained and established constitution. In biblical terms, we can think of self-government as Holy Spirit empowered self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Personal self-government is rooted in a biblically cultivated conscience and character. In political terms, we can think of self-government as the exercise of the power of “we the people” through elected representatives we’ve voted to hold offices and through personal involvement in civil and social service.

*2. Emma Willard as quoted in The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America by Verna M. Hall (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1966), 438-439.

*3. Gary De Mar, America’s Christian History (Atlanta, Georgia: American Vision, Inc., 1995), 79.

*4. Ibid., 85.

*5.  Rosalie J. Slater, Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1965), xiii.

*6. Ibid.

*7.  DeMar, 119.

*8. Ibid.











Categories: Biography, Christian Reader, Government | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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