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FIRST-PERSON: Remembering Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–George Washington understood the need for our fledgling country to set aside a day to give thanks to Almighty God for His providence in creating and protecting this great nation. On Oct. 3, 1789, during a trip to New York City, Washington, at the request of both houses of Congress, signed a proclamation calling the nation to observe a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.

Imagine the uproar such a proclamation would stir today, especially when the decree called upon the people to offer prayers and supplication “to the Great Lord and Ruler of Nations?”

Washington did not call upon a pluralistic, syncretistic God of all faiths. He did not walk down the politically correct, Athenian road calling on Agnosto Theo, the Unknown God. Instead, he called the people of this nation to be devoted “to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

In fact, one could say Washington designed the document with an evangelistic flair. He saw the need for our nation “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue” to all the nations of the world.

This is not to say Washington wanted all people to worship this one God through one church. However, he does call on all people to thank this one God for His “favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war” and “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”

The truth is our Founding Fathers wanted our country to lead the nations even when we were not yet a world power. We had leaders who fearlessly called us to shape the world in all areas. Separation of church and state was not a removal of the church from influencing the state. It was a restriction on the state from influencing the church.

Washington’s declaration specifically acknowledged God’s hand in creating this country. He called on the American people to express with grateful hearts the many favors of God “especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

The amazing aspect of this declaration was not just the call for an attitude of thanks but also the desire for Americans to live a life of dedication to Almighty God. Washington implored citizens to live obediently to the will of God and to be devoted to serving Him.

One of our greatest national problems is the attitude that we created this land of plenty on our own. However, it is not too late for the people of this nation to return to the Lord. We should do as our first president asked and acknowledge the Lord “for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty” He grants our land.

Washington even expressed the biblical way for our nation to return to the Lord. He asked the American people to “beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”

This Thanksgiving, heed the Old Testament admonition that expresses Washington’s proclamation with greater clarity and force. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate on the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism & church growth team.

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  • Keith Manuel