Was Thomas Jefferson a Christian?

Clay & David recap Clay's performances at the Fargo Theatre in Fargo, ND with guest host Bill Thomas of Prairie Public Radio. The two shows, taped in front of a live audience, will be broadcast in the upcoming weeks. The first is on the subject of religion. On this 1776 Club episode, Clay & David tackle one of the most-discussed questions on this topic: was Thomas Jefferson a Christian?

As Clay tells it, the answer is clearly no.

Jefferson, Clay conveys, "wasn't a Christian in the full sense of the term … he was a Unitarian; he edited the Bible; he didn't believe in the trinity, he didn't believe in the miracles, he didn't believe in the resurrection."

While Clay makes it clear that the third president is "not going to be an ally in any faith-based or fundamentally Christian view of America", it's also evident that he was not an atheist — as he was occasionally feared to be in his time. "Jefferson is a deist," Clay explains in today's episode, "he does believe there is a God who was the mechanic and creator who set in motion the universe." 

"Jefferson is one of the top five figures in the way Americans make sense of our national experiment," Clay asserts — and in that light, it's unsurprising that both evangelicals and atheists might want to translate Jefferson into their own worldview. But in the context of historical records, ultimately, Clay concludes, "You have to let Jefferson be Jefferson."

Did Thomas Jefferson believe in life after death? Did he believe that Jesus Christ "rose, bodily, to heaven on the third day"? These are some of the further questions discussed on this week's 1776 Club broadcast.

Also discussed is Thomas Jefferson's letter of January 1st, 1802 to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association. Clay mentions that the original line, regarding church and state, is not just a "wall of separation" but a wall of eternal separation. You can read about the letter and see its full text from the Library of Congress. Jefferson, from his letter:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" thus building a wall of eternal separation between Church & State.
Submitted by listener Glenn.

Submitted by listener Glenn.

Clay & David take a moment to thank our listener Glenn for his photo submission. Nice to know somebody believes us! You can email your photo to us at asktj@jeffersonhour.com.

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The public domain image comes from the New York Public Library Digital Collections: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Utd Stone Church in Winchendon."

Editor's note: The church pictured in the episode artwork has no known association with Thomas Jefferson. While it is identified by the NYPL as a Unitarian Universalist church, the image is likely circa 1850; the photograph was chosen simply for the aesthetic beauty of its composition & its subject.