WASHINGTON – The view from the speaker’s balcony is spectacular and unlike any vantage in the nation’s capital.
From the crest of Capitol Hill looking across the West Lawn toward the Washington Monument, half of the city is laid out in plain view, and at night, the boulevards, which all seem to lead to the Capitol, sparkle as though lined with diamonds.
A historian recently leading a group of visitors pointed toward the end of the shimmering diagonal to the right, Pennsylvania Ave., and said you could see the White House in Thomas Jefferson’s day.
The guide told his guests how Jefferson, as was his custom, would ride his horse the 1.6 miles from the White House to the Capitol, whatever the weather, to attend church with his red Bible tucked under his arm. (“Yes,” the historian added, “It had the miracles he doubted cut out.”)
It might strike many as odd to learn the man who coined the expression “separation of church and state” would attend church services inside the Capitol.
However, no less an authority than the Library of Congress not only verifies this surprising fact, its website makes the astounding observation: “It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church.”
“Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson’s example,” the statement continued.
Non-denominational Christian church services were actually held in the old House of Representatives chamber, what is now called Statuary Hall, from 1807 to 1857. They were also held in the Capitol for a few years after the Civil War until 1870.
Now, after a hiatus of 144 years, weekly prayer services have returned to the Capitol, held exclusively for members of Congress and their staff.
The services were launched under the direction of Dr. Jim Garlow, lead pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego and Rev. Dan Cummins, an associate pastor of that congregation. They are hosted by several members of Congress including Representatives Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Doug Lamalfa, R-Calif., Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
Garlow is the oversight pastor and Cummins is the convening pastor of The Jefferson Gathering held for members of Congress and staffers every Wednesday evening in a modestly appointed but comfortable room in the Capitol’s lower level.
Cummins made the official announcement of the services to WND, waiting until they had been underway for seven weeks.
The pastor explained the services are held mid-week because, unlike in the days of Jefferson, most lawmakers travel back to their home districts on the weekends.
Muslims have been holding services in the Capitol on Fridays since 1993, a tradition begun in 1993 under former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
Garlow invites nationally recognized pastors to preach at the services on a rotating basis. Information can be found at the Jefferson Gathering website.
WND agreed to respect the privacy of the members of Congress who attended by preserving their anonymity. The services WND observed were spirited, with participants enthusiastically singing hymns and evidencing what appeared to be real joy.
Reverent and solemn prayers called for the revival of America and implored God to bestow the nation’s leaders with divine guidance.
A pair of special guests preached on the special occasion of the official return of weekly services to the Capitol.
His Beatitude, Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, offered prayers for the Christians being martyred in the Middle East and asked God for blessings on America.
The author said when George Washington dedicated America to God, it became only the second nation on earth to do so, after Israel.
But, Cahn warned, as happened in ancient Israel, “If we turn away from Him, God will remove His blessings.”
“Now, we’ve turned from God and, like (ancient) Israel, call good evil and evil, good.”
The rabbi related how his book “The Harbinger” outlined specific warnings America has received and how it is risking judgment for turning away from God.
Cahn said both his books show how the events of Sept. 11, 2001 were marked by key events of such uncanny timing as to be beyond coincidence in their mathematical improbability, and the same signs and warnings that appeared long ago in Israel “are now appearing here.”
He called that autumn day 13 years ago a prophetic warning, a “shaking,” and predicted more to come – a “great shaking” that will effect the economy and more, and its “purpose will be to call the United States back to God.”
“Is there hope?” he asked. “If there was no hope there would be no harbingers.”
“Now is the time to change your life, add and subtract whatever is necessary. God is calling us now.”
(Video of Cahn speaking in the Capitol courtesy JoAnn Cummins)
In his homily, Garlow called Cahn a prophet and, “One of the key figures God has raised up at this moment.” The pastor hoped Cahn’s books would go down in history as a turning point for the nation.
Cahn prayed, “Let this city on a hill be revived and honor you again.”
This is not the first time that pastors Cummins and Garlow have joined forces to make history in the U.S. Capitol. On May 8, 2012, Cummins was given permission by Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-Ohio, to use prestigious Statuary Hall, the original chamber of the House, to hold “Washington: A Man of Prayer.”
It has become an annual event with growing support by members of the House and Senate. The 2014 event was aired globally by Daystar Television Broadcast Network and webcast by WND TV. It opened with a personal welcome from Boehner and was hosted by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and emceed by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
“Washington: A Man of Prayer″ commemorates the events of April 30, 1789, when, after being sworn in at Federal Hall, President George Washington, accompanied by Congress, proceeded, in session, to St. Paul’s Chapel where, as one of its first official acts, the newly elected president and Congress offered prayers of dedication to God on America’s behalf.
“Washington: A Man of Prayer″ has been held in Statuary Hall, where the House of Representatives originally met, because that is where church services were held from 1807 to 1857, according to the Library of Congress.
The Library also recorded an act that would likely provoke such outrage from secularists as to be inconceivable today: “The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers.”
A popular modern interpretation of the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is that is was designed to prohibit the government from promoting religion in general and to protect the state from the church.
Others see the clause as designed to protect the church from the state. Judging from his actions, Jefferson may have been in the latter camp. (The same may be true of the author of the establishment clause and the entire Bill of Rights, James Madison, who also attended church services in the Capitol.)
For, according to the Library of Congress, not only did he attend church services in the Capitol, “Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings.”
Another controversy has been whether the nation’s third president was a Christian or a deist, particularly in light of his excising miracles from his own Bible.
Jefferson may have had the last word on that, long ago.
On page 385 of “The Writings of Thomas Jefferson” the third president wrote, “I am a real Christian … that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”
A footnote to the historian’s tale of Jefferson’s horseback rides from the White House to church, as told to a small but intimate and enraptured gathering.
The historian related how, on one such Sunday, a friend asked Jefferson if he really was a believer, and, according to the president’s contemporary, Rev. Ethan Allen, who chronicled the exchange, the president responded:
“No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion, nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”
Follow Garth Kant @DCGarth