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How Dwight Eisenhower Found God in the White House

March 20, 2018 in History

By William I. Hitchcock

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield and Dr. Roy G. Ross of the National Council of Churches shown at a Post Office Department ceremony introducing the nation's first regular stamp bearing a religious significance with the inscription ‘In God We Trust.' (Credit: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images)

After his death, the Reverend Billy Graham became just the fourth private citizen in American history to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, a recognition usually reserved for elected officials and military leaders. As spiritual counsel to a dozen presidents, Graham was emblematic of the mutually beneficial relationship between politicians and religious groups.

The close bond between Christianity—evangelical Protestantism, in particular—and the American presidency began to form in the 1950s. That decade was a time of extraordinary religious revival: Church membership rose from 49 percent of Americans in 1940 to 69 percent in 1960. And President Dwight D. Eisenhower—along with Graham—played an important part in encouraging this spiritual devotion. In fact, Eisenhower played a very personal role in popularizing religious faith in America.

On February 1, 1953, just 10 days after his inauguration, Eisenhower was baptized and welcomed into the National Presbyterian Church by the Rev. Edward Elson. Eisenhower remains the only president ever to have been baptized while in office, and his work to link faith and American identity has influenced political debate in the country for half a century since.

Eisenhower’s life was undeniably shaped by his religious faith. His parents, David and Ida, were members of the River Brethren church in Abilene, Kansas, an off-shoot of the Mennonite faith. Ike’s family life revolved around work and Bible study. “Everybody I knew went to church,” Eisenhower remembered in At Ease, a collection of essays about his early life. In the evenings, the family gathered in the small living room to listen as David read out loud from the family Bible. Later in life, Ida and David both became Jehovah’s Witnesses—a sect devoted to Bible study, evangelism, and pacifism.

Because the Mennonites did not practice infant baptism, Eisenhower did not formally belong to any religious community. Upon taking office as the 34th president, Eisenhower felt this should change. He quietly approached the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., the denomination to which his wife, Mamie, belonged, and was baptized there at the age of 62.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield and Dr. Roy G. Ross of the National Council of Churches shown at a Post Office Department ceremony introducing the nation’s first regular stamp bearing a religious significance with the inscription ‘In God We Trust.’ (Credit: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images)

Though the baptism ceremony itself was private, Eisenhower made every effort to …read more

Source: HISTORY

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