So Help Me God

So Help Me God : The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State

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Today's dispute over the line between church and state (or the lack thereof) is neither the first nor the fiercest in our history. In a revelatory look at our nation's birth, Forrest Church re-creates our first great culture war--a tumultuous, nearly forgotten conflict that raged from George Washington's presidency to James Monroe's.

Religion was the most divisive issue in the nation's early presidential elections. Battles raged over numerous issues while the bible and the Declaration of Independence competed for American affections. The religous political wars reached a vicious peak during the War of 1812; the American victory drove New England's Christian right to withdraw from electoral politics, thereby shaping our modern sense of church-state separation. No longer entangled, both church and state flourished.

Forrest Church has written a rich, page-turning history, a new vision of our earliest presidents' beliefs that stands as a reminder and a warning for America today.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 530 pages
  • 132.08 x 200.66 x 25.4mm | 430.91g
  • United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • Illustrations, black and white
  • 0156034875
  • 9780156034876

Back cover copy


Current disputes over the line between church and state are neither the first nor the fiercest in our history. In a revelatory look at our nation s birth, Forrest Church re-creates our first great culture war a tumultuous, nearly forgotten conflict over the most divisive issue in the nation s early presidential elections: religion. Shaping our modern sense of church-state separation, the battle raged from George Washington s presidency to James Monroe s. Would we be a nation under God, or with liberty for all?

"An illuminating study of the great tangle of our time. If we look back to our early years, we may well find a way forward."--Jon Meacham, author of Franklin and Winston

"So Help Me God magnificently combines a comprehensive knowledge of the history of the American presidency, a sophisticated appreciation for the intricacies of American politics, and a surpassing understanding of the role of religion in American life...."--Senator Gary Hart, author of James Monroe

"A riveting history of that most dangerous American intersection . A remarkable and resonant volume." -- Stacy Schiff, author of A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

FORREST CHURCH served thirty years as minister of All Souls Church in Manhattan and is now its Minister of Public Theology. He earned his doctorate in church history at Harvard and has written or edited twenty-two books, including The Separation of Church and State. He lives in New York.

Praise for So Help Me God

"In this beautifully crafted and timely work, the aptly named Church... makes clear that the tangled historic links between religion and politics were built into American history from the start and are unlikely to be dissolved. This is an important work that delights and informs."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Well researched and written, this lively book will appeal to students of American religious history."--Library Journal
"[A] fascinating and subtle study.... [A]n important, nuanced book, likely to overshadow titles like David Holmes's The Faiths of the Founding Fathers."--Kirkus Reviews
"[Church] provides a wide-angled view of the whole history of the early republic... [So Help Me God is] both solid and scintillating."--Edwin S. Gaustad, author of Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson and Faith of the Fathers

"How fortunate we are to have Forrest Church tell the story of our nation's historical encounters with God and culture, for there are very few who can tell this tale as well as he. With a keen historian's eye for detail and also an informed theologian's perceptions, Church serves as a skillful guide through this fascinating wilderness of ideas." -- Peter J. Gomes, author of The Good Book
"From the beginning of the American Republic, church and state have coexisted in uneasy equipoise. Forrest Church has given us an engaging account of the role our first presidents played in the contest between authority and liberty, fraught with the ambiguity with which we still debate these matters today." -- Timothy George, senior editor, Christianity Today

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Review quote

"An illuminating study of the great tangle of our time . . . Church's book is an excellent contribution to that search for sanity amid the storms of the present."--Jon Meacham, author of American Gospel and Franklin and Winston
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Rating details

80 ratings
3.93 out of 5 stars
5 28% (22)
4 44% (35)
3 25% (20)
2 2% (2)
1 1% (1)
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